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As Tehran pollution worsens, army and city squabble over control of police

TEHRAN, Iran, December 28, 1999 (AFP) - Iran's armed forces repeated their opposition Tuesday to a parliamentary move to place Tehran's traffic police under the authority of the municipality, the official news agency IRNA reported.

"We are opposed because we consider that the city police should be headed by a military officer as part of the armed forces," Tehran police chief General Mohsen Ansari was quoted as saying.

A bill, which was approved in principle by parliament last August, is set down for debate in upcoming sessions, though the law still allows it to be rejected without being discussed in detail.

Morteza Alviri, Tehran's mayor, told parliament in August that "City Hall needs its own traffic police to save Tehran, one of the most polluted cities in the world."

He cited a "conflict of authority" between the city and the police force over traffic control and parking meters in the capital's streets.

Alviri said earlier that the Iranian capital is suffering from a massive pollution problem, as well as anarchy in the transport sector, particularly as regards cars.

"We are also unhappy with current traffic conditions in Tehran, and opposed to control being in the hands of City Hall," Ansari said Tuesday.

The capital's traffic police answered to City Hall until the Islamic revolution of 1989, when all the Iranian police forces were merged.

In August the armed forces said that any changes in the structure of the military should be approved by supreme leader and defence chief Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Ansari, 50, who took over shortly afterwards from General Farhad Nazari, sacked for "incompetence" in handling July's serious unrest, is seen as close to Khamenei.

Tehran, located at the foot of a mountain range that hinders air circulation, is one of the most polluted cities in the world, together with Mexico City, Jakarta and Bangkok.

Earlier this month pollution levels reached critical levels, sending untold numbers of citizens to seek medical help and putting pressure on public officials.

The crisis came only days after Alviri announced a belated 15-year plan to cope with the crisis.

While schools were closed and the public urged to stay at home nothing was done to regulate motor vehicles, whose exhaust fumes are blamed for some 70 percent of the problem.