TEHRAN (AFP) - About 1,500 Iranian students gathered at Tehran University, shouting slogans against the Islamic regime and its clerical leadership, and demanding the freeing of political prisoners, an AFP journalist at the scene said.
The students were massing to mark national students day, commemorating the 1953 shooting by police of three students who were protesting against the then regime of the Shah.
"Death to the dictator", "We don't want an repressive regime or its police",
"Free students" and "Free political prisoners" were among the slogans heard inside the campus where the group was confined by security forces.
Slogans were directed against supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the head of the hardline-controlled judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi. Criticising Khamenei is a crime in Iran.
Students, who have been the most vocal critics of the nearly 25-year-old regime in recent years, were forbidden from protesting off campus by anti-riot police.
The group also directed their frustrations at embattled pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami (news - web sites), who has seen much of his agenda consistently blocked by his more powerful conservative superiors.
"Khatami is a puppet. After six years (as president), Khatami has failed to put reforms in action. The youth have no more confidence in him," one student activist told the gathering.
Several students also called for a boycott of the February 20, 2004 elections when Iran decides whether to renew the mandate of reformists who presently control parliament but who have seen most of their legislation blocked by unelected oversight bodies.
In parallel to the student gathering, some 1,000 members of the Baij militia -- an Islamist volunteer force attached to the Revolutionary Guards -- also staged their own rival meeting.
But there was no sign of any clashes.
Tehran last saw protest gatherings on July 9, when thousands turned out in their cars around the university to mark the anniversary of student riots in 1999.
The month of June also saw several successive nights of anti-regime protests that fizzled out in the face of a massive police operation which, according to official figures, resulted in the arrest of 3,000 people.