Iran police says no harsh steps on unIslamic dress
TEHRAN, Apr 23 (Reuters) Iranian police will seek to persuade rather than confront those flouting Islamic dress codes during a summer campaign against ''social corruption'', Tehran police chief Morteza Talaei was quoted as saying today.
Police said last week they would launch a crackdown yesterday against women ignoring the dress code, which requires them to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to cloak their bodies. Offenders can be punished by fines, lashes or imprisonment.
Talaei said the police had no intention of using force against those who broke the law.
''The police 'guidance' patrols are not commissioned for forced confrontation,'' Tosea newspaper quoted him as saying. ''We cannot create or change the social values by means of police measures.'' Enforcement of strict moral codes governing women's dress, Western music and mingling of the sexes became more lax after President Mohammad Khatami's election in 1997 on a platform of social and political reform.
But even under Khatami, there were still sporadic crackdowns typically at the onset of summer and Islamic volunteers and morals police arrested many young women wearing colourful, tight and revealing coats and scarves.
But some analysts said the softer approach in this year's campaign might be because the government did not want to alienate any part of the population when it is under mounting international pressure over its nuclear programme.
''The government should not adopt a tough line on social issues while trying to satisfy its hardline supporters,'' said political analyst Masoud Mirzai, referring to Iran's nuclear standoff with the West over the country's nuclear programme.
''The government needs the people's support because of increasing international pressure,'' he said.
Western nations have threatened to press for international sanctions on Iran if it does not heed calls to stop uranium enrichment work. The United States has not ruled out military action, but Iran has said it will not halt its nuclear work.
Since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad swept to power last year with the backing of conservative clerics and Basij religious militias, hardliners have pressed for tighter controls on ''immoral behaviour''.
Ahmadinejad was elected after promising a return to the values of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini's 1979 Islamic revolution.
Tehran's streets, particularly in wealthy areas, are full of young women wearing heavy make-up with flimsy headscarves that barely cover their hair. The Islamic dress code is less commonly challenged in poor suburbs and rural regions.
REUTERS SRS PM1923