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July 2000, Week 4
|Thousands Mourn Iranian Poet||July 29|
|Khatami Rallies Iran Reformers with Re-Election Bid||July 26|
|All the Iranian News, All the Time||July 24|
|US Cuts Funding to World Bank Over Support to Iran||July 22|
|Iran Gives Schoolgirls Choice of Uniform Colour||July 22|
|U.S. Defence Secretary Says Iran Test No Surprise||July 21|
Thousands Mourn Iranian Poet
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Thousands of mourners lined the streets of Tehran on Thursday for the funeral of Ahmad Shamlou, one of Iran's finest poets who fell foul of the shah and grew disillusioned with the Islamic Revolution that overthrew him.
The crowds clapped and sang nationalist songs in defiance of Iran's religious rule as the procession, led by intellectuals and writers, passed. It began at the hospital where Shamlou, 75, died of diabetes on Tuesday and ended at a mosque in the north of the capital. |
"Iran, the treasured land. I am willing to be sacrificed for the pure soil of my homeland," youths chanted, fists raised. Mourners, red roses pinned to their chests, sang Shamlou's poems. Mahmoud Dolatabadi, a leading writer, recited Shamlou's love poetry through a loud speaker, mounted on a pickup truck.
A symbol of secular nationalism and social justice, Shamlou was a major force in the intellectual movement opposed to the former shah before the 1979 revolution. He developed a simple, free-flowing style at odds with the tightly-balanced rhymes of classical Persian poetry. Influenced by the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, the black American Langston Hughes and the French communist Louis Aragon, Shamlou also wrote increasingly of love and suffering.
"He was a humanist, an atheist and a socially conscious intellectual who skilfully wove his personal love and affections into his political stance," said writer Esmail Nooriala. "He was a lover and a fighter. At the centre of his poetry was the bare-footed man with nothing but hope and an insatiable desire for justice." His books were banned for long periods before and after the revolution, although since the early 1990s his poems have appeared in literary magazines. Shamlou's opposition to the shah cost him a period of exile in the 1970s, and on his return, he became disillusioned with politics.
His hopes for social justice returned in the wake of popular opposition to the shah in late 1970s, and he joined other writers to lead a secular intellectual movement against the monarch's dictatorship, in parallel with the Islamic one. Shamlou's poetry nights at the time drew large crowds of mainly socialist-minded youth.
"I dread dying in a land where a grave-digger's wage is higher than the price of human freedom," said one of his poems. However, Shamlou grew disenchanted with the revolution after the Shi'ite clergy cracked down on secularism and imposed religious restrictions on individual freedoms. "They smell your mouth to see if you have said 'I love you!'. These are the strangest of times, my love... We must hide our joys in the closet," reads another poem. Shamlou had lived in virtual seclusion in a Tehran suburb in recent years, but made occasional trips to the West for medical treatment.
Although vilified by hardline Islamists as a "traitor and a Western stooge," the poet was rehabilitated under moderate President Mohammad Khatami. Khatami's liberal Culture Minister Ataollah Mohajerani publicly expressed grief over his death, in a marked departure from past practices. Shamlou's body was buried at a cemetery in Karaj, a town west of Tehran. Shamlou's companion Aida Sarkisian said there were plans to build a monument to him.
Khatami Rallies Iran Reformers with Re-Election Bid
TEHRAN(Reuters) - President Mohammad Khatami's decision to seek a second term next year is expected to rally Iran's reformist forces, reeling from the mass closure of their newspapers and the jailing of top activists.
The announcement, broadcast on state television late on Wednesday, ended weeks of speculation that the mid-ranking Shi'ite Moslem cleric might step down under enormous pressure from the conservative establishment he has vowed to supplant.
It has also sharpened the battlelines over social, political and religious reform -- lines that have been muddied by the conservatives' recent attempts to co-opt the reform movement.
"It is time to put up, or shut up. The reformers are in trouble and Khatami has given them a boost at the right time," said one political analyst. |
The polls are expected in late May, and the president is the clear favourite against conservative rivals whose political and administrative power far exceeds their popular mandate. Khatami, an intellectual by temperament and training, used a gathering of university chancellors and research directors to announce his candidacy: "I will participate in the elections." The president said his landslide victory in 1997 had established the power of public opinion in the Islamic Republic, and he vowed to carry on with his reforms as long as they enjoyed popular support.
PUBLIC MANDATE FOR CHANGE
"We are working according to the plan the people have voted for and confirmed. As long as the people have not withdrawn their votes, I will stand by my commitment," he said. Khatami defeated the establishment candidate in the 1997 poll, capturing about 20 million votes. Aides and supporters say they will seek to top that figure next time. The president's three years in power has seen a marked easing of Iran's restrictive social and cultural atmosphere, changes echoed in the country's steady improvement in relations with the West.
Khatami has also overseen two large victories for his pro-reform allies, in the country's first ever local elections and then in parliamentary polls earlier this year. But his ambitious project of erecting a civil society and enforcing the rule of law within Iran's Islamic system has stumbled badly in the face of entrenched clerical and political opposition. One of his greatest achievements, the creation of a vibrant and independent press, is in tatters after the hardline judiciary banned 20 publications and jailed a number of leading editors. And his campaign for the rule of law was challenged by the same judiciary with the acquittal on July 11 of police commanders blamed for the bloody suppression of a peaceful pro-democracy rally that ignited the worst social unrest in almost two decades.
CORE CONSTITUENTS AT RISK
In apparent anticipation of Khatami's re-election bid, conservatives have moved to embrace "reform," saying it must be institutionalised and moderated so as not to undermine the Islamic system. Right-wing MPs recently called for creation of an official "reform headquarters" and denounced their rivals for pursuing "American-style reform," a serious slur in a country that reflexively refers to the United States as the Great Satan. Khatami's sudden announcement, issued some 10 months before election day, was an apparent effort to reclaim the mantle of the reform movement. "Freedom of opposition does not mean that we should take into account what it says," he told the university chancellors.
All the Iranian News, All the Time
By JORDAN RAPHAEL|
Twenty years after fleeing his native Iran for the United States, Sassan Kamali is a full-time television newsman once more. "I feel like a born-again journalist," Mr. Kamali said.
A TV personality in Iran before the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Mr. Kamali now produces and anchors a daily newsmagazine on National Iranian Television, or NITV, a 24-hour satellite television station that began full-scale broadcasts last month out of a North Hollywood, Calif., warehouse. NITV, which features Farsi-language news, lifestyle and cultural programming, is among several Iranian-American TV stations based in Los Angeles, where there are an estimated 600,000 Iranians, but it is the first to broadcast to a worldwide audience. Programming runs on a 12-hour cycle; the broadcast is repeated during daytime hours in Tehran. A typical day begins with a morning talk show in which a man-woman anchor team reads news reports and interviews guests in the style of "Good Morning America." Last Thursday morning, the hosts bantered about the United States heat wave, an Iranian gymnast and an Arab sheik with more than 1,000 wives. The 10 a.m. news program reported on President Clinton's trip to Japan and the Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. The station's offerings also include international sports, Iranian- and French-language music videos, cooking shows and classic Iranian movies.
NITV's founder, Zia Atabay, says the station's purpose is to culturally unite Iranian expatriates in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia and elsewhere. Its other goal is to show Iranians what life is like in America. Mr. Atabay, a popular Iranian singer who left Iran after the revolution and has lived in Los Angeles since 1987, said he was particularly interested in reaching young people in his homeland, because "the young generation there wants to be free." He added, "Young people ask us to go out with a camera and show them what America is about."
Mr. Atabay is quick to point out, however, that NITV does not have a political agenda. "We cannot take a political side because of our journalistic mission," he said. The station's shows do address such issues as religion, freedom and culture clash, which, Mr. Atabay admitted, are inherently political. "We are not going to say who or what to support, but we are going to promote change," he said.
Especially prominent are messages about liberated women. There are no chadors to be seen anywhere: female news anchors, correspondents and singers all fully reveal their faces, and in some cases, much more. "We want to show the people that there is nothing wrong with what you wear," Mr. Atabay said, gesturing toward a music video in which an Iranian pop star, Noush Afarin, wearing a miniskirt and a shirt that left her midriff bare, was dancing. "Here, Iranian women show the belly."
NITV is a modest operation, run by a skeleton crew of 35 producers, writers, on-air personnel and camera operators. Additional programming is purchased from independent production companies. In-house shows are filmed in a single cramped studio containing three sets, which can be converted from program to program in under five minutes. Engineers edit and manage live broadcasts from a control room the size of a bathroom.
Mr. Atabay and his wife, Parvin, who also own a surgery center in the Los Angeles suburb of Encino, provide the station's $250,000 monthly budget. They hope to recoup the money through subscription fees, advertising sales and program sponsorships. Already, the station has attracted a few advertisers, including Porsche and the Sharp Electronics Corporation, according to Ms. Atabay.
NITV's audience is difficult to measure, particularly in Iran, where most viewers use illegal satellite dishes. But the volume of feedback has been tremendous, Mr. Kamali said, holding a congratulatory poem he had just received by fax from Karaj City, west of Tehran. The use of illegal satellite receivers in Iran is so widespread that the government's occasional crackdowns have had little effect, said Ali Jalali, chief of Voice of America's Farsi Service, which broadcasts a weekly one-hour TV program to Iran. "It's grown beyond the capacity of the government to control," he said.
Jahanshah Javid, publisher of Iranian.com, a Web site for expatriate Iranians, said that even though Iran's local stations had loosened up in recent years, Iranians still prefer to watch foreign channels via satellite. "There is a huge untapped audience there, and for years no one has been able to exploit it," he said.
"At this stage, I don't think the quality of NITV is going to matter, because they'll watch almost anything that comes from Los Angeles," Mr. Javid added, noting that for most Iranians, Los Angeles typifies American culture. "But in the long run, the station will have to prove itself with good programming." During his show, Mr. Kamali encourages viewers to send in reports about Iranian communities around the world. He also culls Iranian-themed news items -- for example, about an Iranian-American student earning academic honors -- from American publications. Recently, Mr. Kamali reintroduced Iranians to Art Buchwald, whose column has been absent from Iran's newspapers since the revolution. Although he is glad to be on the air regularly again, Mr. Kamali, who spent the last 14 years working as a finance adviser and computer programmer, said he dreams of one day returning to his homeland. "I'd like to live in Iran again if I can be free as I am here," he said.
US Cuts Funding to World Bank Over Support to Iran
Washington, DC (USA) -African Eye News Service- African HIV/Aids programmes have benefited from a US House of Representatives amendment to cut funding to the World Bank in protest against its resumed funding to Iran.
The cut in funding comes after the World Bank announced in May it would resume lending US$231 million to Iran, which has been widely condemned for its prosecution of 10 Jews charged with spying. |
The Iranian authorities detained the Jews for a year without trial and then sentenced them and three other Iranian nationals to between four and 13 years in jail on July 1. The proceedings were held behind closed doors and the judge acted as prosecutor. The defendants, who included a 17-year-old teenager and a perfume merchant, were denied legal counsel of their choice.
They were accused of spying for the US and Israeli governments. Both governments denied this. The cut in funding to the World Bank will now increase American funding for HIV/Aids programmes in the world's poorest countries by US$ 10 million.
The funding for the programme has been increased from $202 million to $212 million, but remains less than requested by the Clinton administration. Congressman Brad Sherman proposed the amendment and said at a public rally on Monday that the charges against the Jews were trumped-up.
He suggested sanctions against Iran, but said the sanctions would not include a bar on the export of grain. "We are not in dispute with the people who eat bread, we are in dispute with the government," Sherman said.
He proposed the bar of luxury American exports to Iran, such as caviar. Both US President Bill Clinton and international human rights organisations have slammed the treatment of the Jews. According to the world's largest Jewish organisation, B'nai B'Rith International, the basic norms of criminal justice were violated.
The organisation's president, Richard D. Heidemann, is a Washington-based trial attorney and said the proceedings were political show trials conducted with utter disregard for the rights of the defendants. He urged all governments that live by the rule of law to protest loudly and take appropriate action against Iran.
However, former South African president Nelson Mandela has defended the Iranian judicial system. In May, Mandela said foreigners should avoid interfering in the internal affairs of a sovereign state and was assured by Iran's spiritual Leader Ayatollah Ali Khameini and President Mohammed Khatami that the trial would be fair.
Rallies all around the United States have been held in support of liberty and justice for the Iranian Jews.
Iran Gives Schoolgirls Choice of Uniform Colour
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has eased the Islamic dress code for schoolgirls in Tehran, making way for "bright, happy colours" in place of the traditional black.
The new regulations, released on Tuesday, reflect President Mohammad Khatami's social and cultural liberalisation programme, launched after his 1997 election. |
"Under the new guidelines, elementary students can wear bright, happy colours such as light blue, beige, pink, light green and yellow in school," the ministry said in a directive. "The move is to brighten the mood and raise hope among students, and preserve their psychological health," it said.
Until now, schoolgirls were required to dress in the black chador or a drab-coloured hood and robe, as part of the "hejab" -- modest Islamic dress imposed after the 1979 Islamic revolution. The ban on "loud and gaudy colours" would remain in place, urging students and female staff to avoid "cuts and colours contrary to their educational status."
The ministry said it still looked upon the black chador as the "favoured hejab" in Islamic society, but instructed authorities to avoid "unnecessary and illogical restrictions" on schoolgirls' dress. The new rules, however, were limited to elementary students, seen to be less inclined to make a fashion statement, and restricted to the more liberal Tehran area.
U.S. Defence Secretary Says Iran Test No Surprise
SYDNEY (Reuters) - U.S. Defence Secretary William Cohen said on Monday Iran's test of a medium-range missile was no surprise and only confirmed it aimed to develop longer-range missiles -- a factor playing a role in the proposed U.S. missile defence system.
Iran said on Saturday it had successfully tested the Shahab-3 missile, which is modelled mainly on North Korea's Nodong-1 and improved with Russian technology.
"This does not come as a surprise," Cohen, wrapping up a two-day visit to Australia, said at a press conference with Australian Defence Minister John Moore. |
"I have pointed to Iran and the testing of the Shahab-3 and what I assume will be the testing of the 4 in the future and beyond that, as one of the reasons why it is important for the United States to undertake to research, develop and potentially deploy an NMD (national missile defence) system that would provide protection against countries such as Iran posing a threat to the United States," he said.
Cohen is expected to make a recommendation on the anti-missile system next month to President Clinton, who will decide later this year whether to proceed. Two of three tests of the system's ability to detect and destroy a missile in space have failed.
Russia and China have adamantly opposed the system, saying it would break longstanding arms control agreements and could lead to a renewed arms race, which is of concern to some U.S. allies in Europe.
The timetable for building a U.S. missile shield has been tied to intelligence estimates that North Korea could have a missile capable of reaching U.S. soil by 2005. Iran and Iraq have also been cited as trying to develop long-range missiles.
Iran's test of a missile with a range of 1,300 km (800 miles), capable of hitting Israel, led to some speculation it was an attempt to damage Middle East peace talks being held near Washington. Cohen said he did not know what the motives were. "This represents a continuation of their testing programme, whether it was scheduled to coincide with the discussions in Washington is a matter only the Iranians can determine, we don't have any information pertaining to that," Cohen said.
"We accept it for what it is, we know that they will continue to test it, they will continue to develop a longer-range missile capability and that is one of the reasons why we believe it is important that the United States continue its research and testing and the development programme for the NMD, precisely to deal with countries such as North Korea, Iran, Iraq and others," he said.
Asked whether Iran's test would tilt his recommendation toward moving forward with the NMD, Cohen replied: "It doesn't change anything, we have discussed this in the past, we believe that North Korea, Iran, potentially Iraq in the future and others will develop long-range missile capability."
"This is what we anticipate, this confirms our anticipation, and so this is a factor that will have to be taken into account in terms of what the time frame will be when Iran will have the capability of striking U.S. territory or that of European nations," he said.
Separately, Cohen and Moore on Monday signed a "statement of principles" aimed at improving the sharing of sensitive technology and making it easier to export it to Australia. "That gives us very great access to technology," Moore said of the agreement. "It is something which we have been seeking for some considerable time, particularly as it relates to the submarines in Australia," he said.
The agreement would help in making Australia's six Collins attack submarines become fully operational, Moore said. The United States has been helping Australia with the combat system on those submarines and with making them quieter, a U.S. official said.