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Hard-line Iranian press court closes down three more papers

TEHRAN, Iran, April 27, 2000 (AP) Iranian hard-liners closed down three more newspapers today, including one owned by the brother of President Mohammad Khatami, as campaigning began for a second round of voting in legislative polls that have set off a fierce confrontation with reformers.

The closures came a day after Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, endorsed the recent crackdown on reformist newspapers, describing the publications as "deviant'' and urging his supporters not to remain silent.

The Press Court, which is dominated by hard-liners, said Mohammad-Reza Khatami's newspaper and two others had violated press laws. The violations were not detailed today, but Khatami was warned Tuesday about having published several editions a day.

The move brought to 16 the number of reformist publications closed down in the past week as hard-liners resist the president's campaign to loosen social, political and cultural restrictions. The only reformist paper still publishing is Bayan, which has not been as outspoken as the others.

Supporters of President Khatami's reforms have responded with peaceful protests, amid warnings from leaders not to give hard-liners a pretext for harsher measures.

Run-off elections will be held May 5 for 66 seats that were not decided in the February polls for the 290-member Parliament, or Majlis. More than 120 candidates in 52 constituencies scattered across Iran started their weeklong campaigns, lining the streets with posters and handing out leaflets.

Iranians delivered a severe blow to hard-liners when they overwhelmingly voted for reformers in February's elections.

Following their defeat, the hard-liners have been hitting back, using considerable power derived from their control of the judiciary, the state broadcasting media and the Guardians Council that supervises elections.