TEHRAN 17 Aug (IPS) Hundreds of people watching the execution of three men in a public square in Tehran clashed Thursday with Law Enforcement Forces, denouncing such "barbaric" practices.

The execution scene turned violent as the people made efforts to prevent authorities from hanging the condemned, the official news agency IRNA and the press reported.

"Some were shouting slogans asking the victim's families to pardon the culprits, who were finally executed", the agency said, adding that as the police attempted to disperse demonstrators by throwing tear gas at them.

Reporters and cameramen were also attacked by the police, using tear gas against them and broke their cameras, journalists reported from the scene.

"People were openly denouncing discrimination by the authorities in carrying out Islamic laws against culprits, saying that while petty thieves and young ones arrested for drinking are hanged or flogged in public, officials, mostly clerics who commits worse crimes do not get same public punishments

Though executions by hanging, stoning and flogging are carried out in Iran in accordance with Islamic laws, but the practice in public places was ordered by Ayatollah Mahmood Hashemi-Shahroodi, the Iraqi-born Head of the Islamic Judiciary, determined to fight "bad Islamic behaviours, depravity and social corruptions, as drinking, socializing and dancing between men and women.

Seven men, convicted of murder, ended up at the gallows in the capital and the holy city of Mash-had, the press reported Thursday.

The executions took place as the authorities had flogged 13 men in a downtown Tehran square for drinking alcohol and harassing women in the latest in a spate of public punishments ordered by the hard line judiciary.

IRNA said late on Tuesday that the lashings were carried out during the evening rush hour, bringing traffic to a standstill on Tehran's main north-south thoroughfare.

This was the ninth reported case of public floggings in Tehran since the presidential elections of 8 June, prompting the reformists to accuse the conservatives for the generalisation of public hanging, stoning and flogging as a mean to harm the President’s image and popularity both at home and abroad.

The centrist newspaper "Norouz" quoted witnesses as saying blood flowed from the bare backs of the young men as they were getting between 70 to 100 lashes of the cane.

Ayatollah Hashemi Shahroudi, appointed by the leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameneh’i as the Judiciary’s Chief is accused by reformists of trying to derail Khatami’s attempts to bring social change accuse.

The latest round of public lashings, which started after the re-election of President Mohammad Khatami in June, have been publicly endorsed by the hard line judiciary chief as punishments aimed to deter others.

Speaking in the north eastern city of Mash-had, Ayatollah Hashemi-Shahroodi reiterated his harsh stand and called for an "all-out fight" against social vices which, he said, have been plaguing the society.

"All should be sensitive toward the issue of the promotion of corrupt means and fight against the enemy’s efforts to deprave our children", the fundamentalist cleric told at a session of the provincial judiciary heads from around the country.

"All of us are responsible today in the issue of the youth's perversion", he said, adding it was up to all, especially the judiciary, to confront it.

"The enemies are trying to weaken the spirit of sacrifice, generosity, benevolence and commitment among our people and ascribe to Islam some inefficiencies which are the result of (some people's) lack of commitment to the Islamic principles", Mr. Hashemi-Shahroodi said, parroting the lamed leader.

He also defended the judiciary's performance in dealing with social vices, above all the flogging of the offenders in public.

"The people have thanked the police and judiciary for carrying out punishments in public in the past months", he said, without giving any proof.

His statement come following recent declarations by other senior clerics criticizing public flogging of offenders and hangings, mostly convicted on charges of drunkenness or harassment of women or for drug trafficking or murder.

Some of them vehemently voiced their opposition to them and called for consultation with high-ranking religious authorities before carrying out flogging people in public.

"These floggings, instead of making the victims repentant, not only increase public sympathy with them but also makes them more defiant against Islam and public order", observed Mr. Mohammad-Javad Haq-Shenas, deputy interior minister for political affairs.

Interior Minister Hojjatoleslam Abdolvahed Mousavi-Lari was one of the first officials to oppose Ayatollah Hashemi-Sharoodi’s decision to intensify public floggings and executions.

"It is wrong to depict Islam as sanctioning the violent punishment of a few youngsters", he added, calling on the Majles to consider passing laws that would forbid public floggings.

Other high-ranking clerics of both sides also disputed the Judiciary Chief’s orders to the police for intensifying the fight against what he names "depravity".

"If punishments carried out in public have an adverse effect on public opinion, they should not take place in public", IRNA quoted Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi as saying.

Hojjatoleslam Mohammad Ali Ayazi, a teacher of Islamic laws in the central city of Qom noted that Islam has set "very strict conditions" before the judge could pronounce a sentence for acts of so-called depravity committed privately, like the presence of four witnesses to an act of adultery.

He also denounced the Judiciary’s discrimination in carrying out the public flogging, reminding that so far, no official, particularly religious one, caught red hand abusing young girls in Islamic education centers, have received lashes in public.

"Punishments in public are not sanctioned by Islam", Ayatollah Mohsen Mussavi- Tabrizi said, adding the application of such verdicts in streets and public places is an incorrect interpretation of the Koran.

However, some orthodox theologians such as Ayatollah Mohammad-Taqi Messbah Yazdi have defended public flogging as a form of Islamic punishment, saying they are sanctioned under the unalterable, divine laws of the Qor’an and cannot be waived or modified to fit particular situations or modifications or conventions of some modern societies.

But Mr. Ayazi does not agree with this interpretation and argue that Islam attaches importance to the time and place factors. "We can not put our heads into the snow and say we don’t care about what the world says about us", Mr. Ayazi pointed out. ENDS PUBLIC FLOGGING 17801