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TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iranian police have launched a crackdown on women's dress before the summer season when soaring temperatures typically tempt many to flout the strict Islamic dress code, witnesses and Iranian state media said on Sunday.
Such crackdowns have become a regular feature of Iranian life in the summer as police confront growing numbers of young women testing the limits of the law with shorter, brighter and skimpier clothing.
Under Iran's Islamic Sharia law, imposed after the 1979 revolution, women are obliged to cover their hair and wear long, loose-fitting clothes to disguise their figures and protect their modesty.
Violators can receive lashes, fines or imprisonment.
"Police have started from Saturday to confront those women who appear in public in an inappropriate way," the semi-official Fars news agency quoted Mehdi Ahmadi, a spokesman of the capital's police force, as saying.
Many young women, particularly in wealthier urban areas, shun the traditional head-to-toe black chador, wearing calf-length Capri pants, tight-fitting, thigh-length coats and brightly colored scarves pushed back to expose plenty of hair.
The Islamic dress code is less commonly challenged in poor suburbs and rural regions.
Police in Iran's capital, Tehran, have so far stopped more than 1,300 women and warned them against breaching the dress code, Ahmadi said, adding "the cases of 59 women have been referred to the court."
The fate of women who police decide are "badly veiled" depends on the officers concerned. They may be released with a caution, or taken to a police station and freed on bail, said the Kargozaran daily.
"Those women who resist the guidance of police may be detained," it quoted a senior police official as saying.
Under eight years of moderate Mohammad Khatami's presidency, who was elected in 1997 and re-elected in 2001 on a platform of social and political reform, enforcement of social restrictions such as Islamic dress codes for women relaxed.
But even under Khatami there were sporadic crackdowns and police arrested many young women.
Since hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won the presidency in 2005 after promising a return to the values of the revolution, hardliners have pressed for tighter controls on "immoral behavior."
But some analysts are worried that taking a tough line could backfire when the government needs popular support in its standoff with the West over Iran's nuclear program.
The West fears Iran is trying to build an atomic bomb under cover of a civilian program. Iran says it wants nuclear technology to generate electricity.