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Iran: Protest Continues In Spite Of Supreme Leader's Intervention

Iranian deputies are protesting for a fifth day against a decision by the conservative Guardians Council to bar thousands of candidates in next month's legislative elections. They are continuing a sit-in demonstration in spite of intervention by the country's supreme leader urging the Guardians Council to review its ban.

Prague, 15 January 2004 (RFE/RL) - Intervention by Iran's supreme leader in the row between reformist deputies and the conservative Guardians Council was not enough to end a demonstration by parliament deputies.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday asked the council to revise its massive disqualification of reformist candidates ahead of elections next month. Khamenei has the final word in all matters related to the Islamic state. "The Guardians Council has about 20 to 22 days to review what has happened. It is a very good opportunity," he said.

The council has justified the bans by questioning the Islamic credentials of the candidates, many of whom are considered moderates and reformers. The bans affect thousands of candidates, including many incumbent deputies.

Khamenei addressed the problem of the incumbent candidates in remarks to council members: "Those whose [abilities] were proved in the past are competent, unless it is proved otherwise. If the contrary is proved, then you should not listen to anyone."

The supreme leader's intervention apparently did not fully satisfy the some 80 protesting deputies, who have vowed to continue their sit-in demonstration. Nevertheless, the deputies see the intervention as a positive sign and a rally scheduled for later today has been cancelled.

Siavash Ardalan, a correspondent for RFE/RL's affiliated station, Radio Farda, says the reformists interpret Khamenei's intervention as a victory. "At this stage the reformists, in their fifth day of their parliamentary sit-in, are claiming victory as they feel that the Supreme leader with his comments to the Guardians Council members has put the ball in their court. [In] the statement that the [deputies] released today they said that [they] are awaiting the Guardians Council's reaction and the interpretation of the supreme leader's speech," Ardalan said.

Khamenei, in his comments, left room for interpretation. In an apparent reference to the protesting deputies, he told members of the Guardians Council that they should not retreat in the face of people who want to resort to force. "I don't advise the Guardians Council to surrender to those who want to force their way against the law. Never," he said.

As a sign of easing of tension, officials are now considering dropping their threat to resign. Many members of President Mohammad Khatami's cabinet and all of the provincial governors had said they would resign in a week if the election ban was not reversed.

Ardalan says, however, Iran's factional power struggle between reformers and conservatives will continue. "[It] seems that Khamenei, by making ambiguous statements as to how both factions should proceed in this strife, he is leaving the court open for the continuation of the power struggle," he said.

The Guardians Council is due to make a final ruling on the disqualifications by the end of this month. A definitive list of candidates is to be released on 12 February -- just a week ahead of the vote.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is one of the authors of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.