MOVING AWAY FROM HARD LINERS, KHAMENEH'I BACKS KHATAMI

TEHRAN 8TH SEP. (IPS) Have the Ansar e Hezballah and other pressure groups that are controlled by the ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i, the leader of the Islamic Republic went too far by attacking and beating up 2 senior government officials last week or is he afraid that by letting the incident go without punishment, the "camel may one day sleep at his own door as well", according to one Persian saying.

That Mr Khameneh'i has immediately supported the president for the suppression of the pressure groups confirm the slow change of position of the leader, moving away from hard liners he used to support and represent, and going closer to the reformist side, according to analysts in Tehran.

Ansare Hezbollah hooligans assaulted on 4th September hojatoleslam Abdollah Nouri, the former Interior Minister who was impeached last June by the Majles (Parliament) and became vice-president for Social Affairs and Development and Mr Ata'ollah Mohajerani, the Islamic Guidance Minister and the government's official spokesman as they were leaving Friday prayers in Tehran.

Both men are close allies of the president and are considered as the "betes noires" of the conservatives that are against any change in Iran.

The 5000 strong Ansar are controlled by the ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a hard line cleric close to the leader. The "owbash" (hooligans) are trained by the Information (Intelligence) Ministry and are equipped with white arms, mostly bicycle chain, wire cable, knives, iron bars, batons etc.

Formed on the pattern of the Hitler Germany's SS shock troops, and moving with big cylinder motor cycles, their main task is to attack anyone or any group, civilians or clerics that dares to criticise openly the ayatollah Khameneh'i.

Abdolkarim Soroush, the revolutionary Islamist turned reformist, the grand ayatollah Hosseinali Montazeri and several members of his family, journalists at "independent" newspapers such as "Jame'eh" (replaced by Toos after being banned by the Judiciary), students leaders, artists, intellectuals, dissidents of all walk have been routinely subject to assaults and harassment by the Ansar militants, without ever being disturbed in their activities or any of them being arrested or even reprimanded.

Eyewitness said militants chanting "death to Nouri", "death to liberal" knocked Mr Nouri's turban off his head and attacked Mr Mohajerani. Both officials were slapped in the face. Mohajerani was taken to hospital for minor injuries.

It was after this serious incident that President Mohammad Khatami ordered the Interior Ministry to put an end to the activities of the extremist islamist militants.

But what surprised a great number of observers was the ayatollah Khameneh'i's backing for the president's decision to combat the Ansar.

"We can not tolerate that violence become the law. Authorities should not hesitate to fight to the end the small groups that generate fear, oppose the law and order and threatens the freedom of individuals", Mr Khatami warned, according to a communiqué read by the Television which like the Radio, is directly controlled by Mr Khameneh'i.

Brigadier-General Reza Lotfian, the Commander of the Tehran Police said after he received orders from the ayatollah Khameneh'i, his men have started a wide range investigation to arrest all the culprits who attacked the 2 ministers.

As the Interior Ministry announced that several people had been arrested in relation with the beating up of Mr Nouri and Mr Mohajerani, dissidents expressed both relief and regret at Mr Khatami's decision to put an end to the actions of the Ansar and other Hezbollah organisations.

Relief because the dismantlement of the pressure groups will certainly strengthen the camp of the reformist against the ultra hard liners, such as the ayatollahs Jannati and Mohammad Yazdi, the Head of the Judiciary, who seems to have secured the leadership of the hard line wing of the conservative establishment.

Regret because the president took the drastic decision only after 2 of his close allies and friends have been assaulted while before them, other people had been threatened, beaten, molested, humiliated and injured by the same groups without anybody hearing any word of condemnation from Mr Khatami.

In an editorial published after the incident, the pro-Khatami daily "Salam" said "time has arrived to say and name openly and publicly who are behind these groups". ENDS BEATING 999800