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    U.S. Condemns Iranian Persecution

    WASHINGTON (AP) -- The State Department accused Iran of persecuting members of the Baha'i faith and urged that death sentences against six Baha'i prisoners be set aside.

    More than 500 homes and office buildings owned or rented by Iranian Baha'is have been raided and at least 36 faculty members from a Baha'i institute arrested, deputy spokesman James Foley said Thursday.

    Textbooks on such subjects as dentistry and accounting were confiscated, the U.S. spokesman said. None of the material seized dealt with religious or political subjects, Foley said. Four of the 36 teachers were kept in prison, joining 13 other Baha'is, six of whom are facing execution.

    Three weeks ago, the State Department condemned the execution of a Baha'i, Ruhollah Rowhani. The department said it had seen no evidence Rowhani was accorded due process of law.

    The White House also issued a statement, conveying President Clinton's condolences to Rowhani's family. It said Clinton urged Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to take the necessary steps to ensure that others are not victimized for the peaceful expression of their faith.''

    On Thursday, the State Department's Foley said the buildings raided in recent days were used by the Baha'i Institute of Higher Education, a university founded in 1987 after Baha'is were virtually banned from Iran's public universities.

    "We have publicly called on the government of Iran to protect the lives of all Baha'is," Foley said. "We continue to urge the government of Iran to eliminate restrictions on the practice of religion and to recognize and uphold the fundamental human right to freedom of conscience and belief." The U.S. official urged the Iranian government to exercise restraint and not carry out death sentences against imprisoned Baha'is.

    The Baha'is draw their religious principles from the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths. They are considered heretics by Iran's Islamic fundamentalist government.

    For months, the Clinton administration has pursued diplomatic and other contacts with Iran on the basis of a judgment that President Khatami was inclined to moderation.

    Hard-liners in the Iranian government have rebuffed the overtures.

    © Copyright 1998 The Associated Press

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