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Iranian Official Says Election Crisis In Deadlock

Prague, 31 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- A top Iranian official says the government has reached a dead-end in efforts to overturn a conservative watchdog's ban on thousands of reformists running for parliament.

Interior Minister Abdolvahed Musavi-Lari said that the upcoming parliamentary vote is "illegitimate" and cannot be held because many reformist candidates have been barred from running by the powerful Guardians Council.

The Guardians Council, an unelected oversight body, had initially banned almost half the 8,200 prospective candidates for parliamentary seats. That sparked protests, including a parliamentary sit-in now entering its fourth week.

The council on 30 January reinstated more than 1,000 of those candidates. But over 2,000 hopefuls are still barred from running in the 20 February election.

Musavi-Lari said an election under these circumstances "is not legitimate." The government, he said, cannot hold the election "unless there is some change."

President Mohammad Khatami also indicated today his government could not proceed with the poll under current conditions, saying it will "only hold competitive and free elections." He was also quoted as saying efforts to resolve the crisis had reached deadlock. But within hours, his office put out a statement denying that Khatami had not said any such thing.

The comments came as Iran's cabinet was due to hold an emergency session (31 January) over the deepening electoral crisis. That was postponed after Khatami reportedly fell ill with a bout of back pain.

Meanwhile, dozens of reformist deputies began circulating and signing letters of resignation in protest. The deputies said they plan to hand in their resignations tomorrow and may boycott the election altogether unless the council reverses its ruling.

Reformist lawmaker Hossein Loghmanian told Radio Farda yesterday the lawmakers are not going to back down from their demands. "The people and the deputies are resisting," he said. "As one of them, I can tell you it's not possible that we will back off. The rights of the people are the most important thing for us. We cannot betray the people; we will defend the rights of the people as much as we can."

Correspondents say the government has two main options. One is to refuse to take part in staging the elections. The other would be to defy the Guardians Council and instruct the Interior Ministry to list all disqualified candidates on the ballots.