Iran hardliners in 'fascist approach'


A leading Iranian reformer accused hardliners of taking a "fascist" approach, as President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's new cabinet prepared to hold its first meeting today after his disputed re-election in June.

The hard-hitting comment by former president Mohammad Khatami was a further sign that the moderate opposition would try to keep up protests over an election it says was rigged.

Parliament approved most of Mr Ahmadinejad's government ministers three days ago in a move that bolstered his position after nearly three months of political turmoil.

The government was due to meet for the first time on Sunday evening in the northeastern city of Mashhad, site of Shia Iran's holiest shrine.

The presidential poll, which was followed by huge opposition demonstrations, plunged Iran into its deepest internal crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution and exposed rifts within its ruling clerical and political elites.

The authorities reject charges the vote was fraudulent.

"We believe they destroyed in this election the biggest opportunity that had come about for the Islamic establishment and the country," Mr Khatami said in a meeting with university professors in Tehran, the ILNA news agency reported.

He said: "We are opposed to the interpretation of religion by those who in the name of confronting Western liberalism want to drive people by force on to the path they regard as prosperous using a fascist or totalitarian approach."

Authorities have portrayed the protests as a Western-backed bid to undermine the Islamic state and have begun mass trials of senior reformists, including Khatami allies.

The elite Revolutionary Guards and a pro-government Islamic militia put down the post-election street protests. The opposition says 72 people were killed in the violence, nearly three times the official estimate.

Mr Khatami said the election had been an "opportunity to have the youth and people who were dissatisfied . . . to return to the scene and make the right choice with hope in the establishment and the future."

Mr Khatami, who was president from 1997-2005, backed opposition leader Mirhossein Mousavi in the vote. The Guards have called for both of them to be put on trial.

Another leading reformist criticised the cancellation of an annual religious ceremony where Khatami had been due to speak and which could have become a rallying point for moderates.

Iranian media said the September 9th-11th event was called off after the authorities put pressure on its hosts.