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Shah may leave embattled Iran

TEHRAN, Dec. 30, 1978 (UPI) - Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi has agreed to leave Iran temporarily and hand over power to a regency council in an attempt to halt Iran's slide toward chaos, highly placed sources say. But the plan could be scotched by a national Troops firing automatic weapons and tear gas shells chased groups of demonstrators who shouted "death to the shah" on the eighth straight day of rioting in the capital.

Javad Said and Mohammad Sajjadi, presidents of the lower house, the Majiles, and the Senate respectively, went to the shah's palace before noon. No details of the talks were given by court officials.

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The capital shut down in response to a national mourning call by the shah's arch-foe, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and politicians feared the action could disrupt the shah's plan to step aside temporarily if it ended in more bloodshed.

As Iran's crisis deepened, U.S. Navy sources said today the American aircraft carriers USS Constellation and the USS Midway were steaming from the Philippines and Japan toward the Persian Gulf region.

Sources close to the shah said Friday he asked Shahpour Bakhtiar, 63, leader of the National Front opposition party, to form a regency council of elder politicians to replace the military government that resigned earlier in the day.

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"The shah is not abdicating" a source close to the palace said. "He may just be leaving Iran temporarily."

(In Paris, Prof. Mohammed Mokri, a member of the National front, said Friday dissident Iranians gathered around Ayatollah Ruholla Khomeini had been informed by contacts in Tehran that "the shah already left, or is leaving tonight.

"They do not know where he has gone but reports from Tehran say he has gone either to Jordan, the Spanish Balearic islands, Switzerland, Israel or South Africa," the professor said.)

An Iranian air force 747 jumbo jetliner carrying the shah's aged mother and other members of the immediate royal family landed at Los Angeles International Airport, Pan Am spokesman Robert Joyce said.

Demonstrations and strikes against the shah and the United States have brought Iran's $20 billion oil industry to a halt, shut down private services ranging from buses to electricity and caused widespread shortages of water and food.

The shah's official spokesman in both Tehran and Washington denied the shah planned to leave the country, but highly placed political sources said Bakhtiar extracted the shah's pledge to depart temporarily in return for his willingness to form a regency council.

The sources said a national day of mourning called for today by Khomeini, the exiled Moslem leader living in Paris, could pose a "real danger" to the shah's transition plans. Early reports indicated the day of mourning was beginning to take hold in Tehran.

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"If there is bloodshed again today it would really make it difficult for Bakhtiar and the shah to enter into an accommodation falling short of the shah's outright resignation," one political source said.

In Manila, U.S. Navy sources said the USS Constellation and its destroyer escorts had left the Subic Bay Naval Base in the Philippines and would join the USS Midway, which also left its base in Japan.

U.S. officials in Washington said the naval task force would head toward the Persian Gulf and stand on alert in the approaches to the Indian Ocean.

The 59-year-old shah, who had ruled Iran for 38 years, met Bakhtiar in surprise talks Thursday and offered him the premiership after Gholam Hosseini Sadighi, the candidate-premier for the past two weeks, gave up his attempts to form a government.

The sources said Bakhtiar presented the shah with a series of proposals:

--That the shah leave the country on a temporary basis, investing his powers in a regency council composed of elder politicians.

--That the current parliament, elected in 1975 under a short-lived, one-party system, be dissolved.

--That the dread SAVAK secret police be disbanded

--That control over the Iranian armed forces be given to the civilian government, with appropriate parliamentary intervention.

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If the shah departs, it would be the second time he has left the country under political pressure.

On Aug. 16, 1953, at the height of his struggle with the late Premier Mohammed Mossadegh, he flew to Rome. But he was back on his throne six days later, after demonstrators paraded through Tehran demanding his return.

The shah's latest crisis began in November 1977 when leftist student demonstrators poured into the streets to demand his ouster.

The students were soon joined by members of Iran's Moslem Shiite sect, who opposed the shah's attempt to transform Iran into a modern industrial and military power. The violence has taken more than 1,500 lives.

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