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Iran's Khatami offers to quit

Saturday, July 12, 2003 Posted: 6:03 AM EDT (1003 GMT)

(CNN) -- Facing stiff criticism within his own reformist party, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami told Iranians that "if this nation says that they do not want us, we will leave," according to Iran's state news agency.

"This is the way a society ought to be," Khatami said in a speech Thursday in the city of Karaj, west of Tehran, according to the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA).

Khatami also said that he and his administration were "the people's servants," not their lords and masters.

It is not the first time Khatami has made such a statement. However his comments this week come amid criticism -- voiced in several open letters to the president -- demanding that he fulfill his constitutional responsibilities and prevent the arrests of those who oppose the current policies of the hard-line conservatives.

The protests, which began June 10 and lasted nine consecutive nights, called for reforms and increased freedoms in the strict Islamic government. Many turned violent as government authorities and vigilantes attacked the protesters, who in some cases fought back.

Iran announced that more than 4,000 people were arrested during the protests, including about 800 students.

The most recent open letter to Khatami was written by Dr. Abdulkarim Soroush, one of the leading reformists and a staunch opponent of the conservatives.

In his letter, Soroush blamed Khatami's inaction for the recent wave of arrests and said the president should implement the constitution and prevent such events in the future.

Soroush also accused the president of ignoring and wasting the power that was given to him by the vote of the people.

Khatami won a landslide victory in 2001, giving him a second four-year term as president. He cannot run for another term.

-- Journalist Shirzad Bozorgmehr in Tehran contributed to this report.



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