"THE CLERICAL regime is nearing its end. Vigilantes commit crimes, the leader supports them," chanted defiant student protesters at Tehran university, Iran.

Over the past week students have protested. The action was sparked by a student gathering against privatisation of the universities. But after clashes with religious vigilantes, backed by anti-riot cops, the protests became increasingly anti-regime.

Around 3,000 students protested on 11 June and some fought back against police and vigilantes after they were attacked. They chanted "death to Khomenei" (an offence punishable by jail), while others denounced President Mohammed Khatami’s current ’reformist’ leadership and demanded the release of political prisoners and a secular society.

In 1999 student opposition to media censorship by the ruling clerics led to a violent clampdown on protests by vigilantes and security forces. At least one student was killed and many injured. Menacingly, Iran’s reactionary supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warns today’s protesters: "If the Iranian nation decides to deal with the rioters, it will do so in the way it dealt with it on 14 July 1999."

However, fearful that the movement could escalate the Ayatollah then went on TV to urge the vigilantes to show restraint, while blaming the US for fomenting the unrest.

Clearly, the US would like to see regime change in Iran. They want to curb Tehran’s political ambitions in Iraq, which shares a large Shia Muslim population. The US accuses Iran’s clerical rulers of sending revolutionary guards to agitate amongst Iraq’s Shias.

The US would also like to see the regime’s demise because it supports Hizbollah guerrillas in Lebanon. In the propaganda war between the two states George Bush denounced Iran as part of an "axis of evil", sponsoring terrorism.

Six years ago Iranians overwhelmingly voted in a reforming platform of Khatami and his parliamentary allies. But the young population now feels betrayed by the reformists’ failure to challenge the ruling clerics.

As well as suffocating social laws and media censorship, the capitalist theocracy has presided over mass unemployment and widespread poverty despite buoyant revenues from oil production.

From The Socialist, paper of the Socialist Party, CWI in England and Wales

Committee for a workers' International publications

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