PARIS 25TH SEPT. (IPS) The surprising declarations, 2 days ago, by the Islamic Guidance Minister, Ata'ollah Mohajerani defending the closure of the liberal newspaper "Toos" and the arrest of its owner, publisher, editor and senior editor has split the government of president Mohammad Khatami and weakened the position of the "moderates" against the ruling conservatives.

Considered as one of the president's strongest voice for implementing reforms that includes relative political and presses freedom, Mr Mohajerani changed abruptly his hat Tuesday not only by expressing his full approval of the Judiciary's action against the independent daily but brought fresh water to the conservative's mill by accusing the top men in charge of "Toos" to work for the outlawed but tolerated Iran Freedom Movement (IFM) of the late Mehdi Bazargan, Islamic Iran's first Prime Minister.

IMF's General Secretary, Dr Ebrahim Yazdi immediately denounced as "utterly baseless" Mr Mohajerani's statement and accused him to have sided with the conservatives to save his job and neck, as the Majles prepared itself to impeach him.

Masha'allah Shamsolva'ezin, the Editor, Mohammad Sadeq Javadi Hesar, the owner, Mohammad Reza Jala'i Pour, the Publisher and Ebrahim Nabavi, a senior editor were arrested last week by an Islamic Revolutionary Tribunal and charged with "seditious activities against the security of the state and hurting people's sacred believes".

They were arrest and their newspaper closed down one day after the leader of the regime, the lame-duck and poor health ayatollah Ali Khameneh'i had lashed out against liberal and independent publications, accusing them of targeting the innocent people's faith and urged the officials in charge to take action or he himself will bring down the guillotine.

Mr. Khameneh'i's orders to curb the little freedom Iranian newspapers enjoyed since the election of the ayatollah Mohammad Khatami, was warmly hailed by the conservatives, including their praetorian forces, the revolutionary guards, the conservative-dominated Majles (parliament) and the Judiciary, all directly controlled by the leader.

Mr. Mohajerani is reported to have accused "Toos" to be expressing the views of a "third current" that's the Iran Freedom Movement that hoped to emulate (the Russian president Boris) Yeltsin when he overpowered Mikhail Gorbachov, the last leader of the Soviet Union.

As the Guidance Minister is also the government's official spokesman, his surprising support for limiting the press freedom has been interpreted as representing both the government and the president's views.

But as Mr Mohajerani sided with the Judiciary and anti-Khatami forces against "Toos", hojatoleslam Aabdollah Nouri, the former Interior Minister who was forced by the Majles to resign, strongly condemned the Judiciary's action, describing it as "illegal".

Informed sources in Tehran told IPS that in the last cabinet meeting, Mr Nouri, another "pillar" in Mr Khatami's team, suggested that Mr Mohajerani should either "correct" his declaration or resign.

"One can not be in this government and with its enemies at the same time", Mr Nouri who now is a Vice president for social affairs is reported to have told the cabinet.

This first open split in the president's government surfaced as 180 conservative MPs voiced their support for the leader's decision and called on the Information (Intelligence) Ministry and the Islamic Revolution Tribunals to act mercilessly and as "enemies of the state's security and Islam" against those journalists and intellectuals they denounced as "revisionists" and "depraved" that "targets the belief of the Iranian Muslim population".

What's even more disturbing is that some Islamic judges have suggested that the arrested journalists may be charged as "atheists" and "enemies of God", an offence that carries death penalty in Islamic Iran.

Acting on strict orders from the ayatollah Khameneh'i, the Islamic Judiciary is now intending to create a special committee to look after all press offences and bug newspapers telephone lines in order to bring charges against readers that send "inappropriate" messages to the dailies.

International human rights organisations such as the Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Reporters Sans Frontieres but also Iranian opposition organisations outside Iran and students association's leaders in Iran have all strongly denounced the decision of the Judiciary by calling on the Iranian president to take "immediate" action for the "unconditional" release of the 4 arrested journalists and the reopening of all closed publications, including the Rahe Now weekly.

Branding as "illegal" the closure of Toos", Mr. Heshmatollah Tabarzadi, the Secretary General of the Union of Islamic Students Associations suggested that since Mr Mohajerani is also confirming of the Judiciary's illegal decisions, he should give up his post as the Islamic Guidance Minister and join the judges at the Islamic Revolution Tribunal.

But Mr. Behzad Nabavi, a leader of the Organisation of Islamic Revolution Mujahedeen that supports Mr Khatami has urged students to not expect the president to take side in the "Toos" newspaper's affair.

"What do you expect him to say or to do? To condemn the decision amounts to mounting difficulties and troubles (because he will then be in direct and open confrontation with the all-powerful leader). But for him to remain silent is also difficult, as it undermines his popularity. Therefore, the best thing for you to do is not expect anything but mind you that there no alternative for him at this time", the former Heavy Industries Minister is quoted to have said in a meeting with students.

But Mr Tabarzadi does not agree. "This is not correct that Mr Khatami is powerless against the conservatives. He has the support of the people. If he dares, if he talk, if he acts, he will be obeyed ad the conservatives will retreat. The problem with him is that he does not want", the 42 years-old students leader told a Los-Angeles-based Iranian Radio station. ENDS GOVERNMENT SPLIT 2599801