Iran cleric says opposition seeks leader's removal

Sat Dec 12, 2009 6:15am EST
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TEHRAN (Reuters) - A hardline Iranian cleric accused the pro-reform opposition on Saturday of seeking the removal of key pillars of the Islamic state, including the office of the supreme leader, and of trying to plunge the country into crisis.

"What they are after is to have a thin layer remaining of the Islamic Republic," Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami said in a speech in the holy Shi'ite Muslim city of Qom, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Separately, hundreds of theological students staged a rally in downtown Tehran to protest against an "insult" to late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, official media said. Similar events were also held in other Iranian cities.

State television has broadcast footage of what it said were opposition supporters tearing up and trampling on a picture of Khomeini during anti-government demonstrations on December 7.

A nationwide rally on that day to mark the killing of three students under the Shah turned violent when pro-reform students clashed with security forces armed with batons and tear gas in the largest such protests in months.

Backers of opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi were seeking to renew their challenge to the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad six months after a disputed election, which reformers say was rigged in the hardline incumbent's favor.

The authorities have rejected vote fraud charges and portrayed the huge pro-Mousavi protests that erupted after the June presidential poll as a foreign-backed bid to undermine the Islamic state's clerical leadership.

"They are after an Islamic Republic without Islamic jurisprudence and without the Guardian Council," Khatami said, referring to the institution of the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and a powerful 12-member legislative body.

"INSULTS"   Continued...

<p>Iranian cleric Ahmad Khatami delivers a sermon during Friday prayers in Tehran June 22, 2007. Khatami said on Friday the fatwa death warrant against author Salman Rushdie issued by the late Iranian Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 was "still alive" in the Islamic Republic. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl</p>