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Iran: Deputies Continue Sit-In As Khatami Says Political Crisis Heading Toward Settlement

Prague, 22 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Legislators in Tehran are in the 12th day of a sit-in in parliament, protesting a decision by the conservative Guardians Council to exclude more than 3,000 reformist candidates from standing in 20 February parliamentary polls.

A spokesman for the Guardians Council, Mohammad Jahromi, said today that the protests and threats of resignation are having no influence on the election process. He said the council will continue to review the credentials of parliamentary candidates. Several Iranian ministers and vice presidents have threatened to resign if the council does not reverse its decisions.

Nevertheless, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami voiced confidence yesterday that Iran's political crisis is heading toward a settlement. Khatami's government has given the Guardians Council a list of 618 rejected candidates for reconsideration. The Guardians Council has so far reinstated 260 of the vetoed candidates.

"We have set one objective, and that is a free and competitive election. And events are moving in such a way that we are very hopeful, with the grace of God, that such an election will take place," Khatami said.
The Guardians Council decided to review the election bans after a call by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Khatami yesterday downplayed the crisis, calling it a "normal part of the election process." Speaking at the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland, he expressed hope that parliamentary elections in Iran will be free and competitive.

"Me and my friends, we have set one objective, and that is a free and competitive election. And the course of the events are moving in such a way that we are very hopeful, with the grace of God, that such an election will take place with great enthusiasm in Iran," he said.

Khatami also said he has no plans to resign. He told Swiss television that he intends "to continue my task and my service to the people."

Meanwhile in Hamedan, western Iran, about 200 hard-liners beat up reformist speakers at a protest meeting being held last night to discuss the disqualification of candidates. The attackers -- reportedly members of the radical Ansare Hezbollah group -- injured several of the speakers, including a reformist deputy from Hamedan, Hossein Loghmanian.

Protesting deputies are warning that they will resort to other forms of opposition if the Guardians Council does not lift its bans on pro-reform candidates by today.

Abbas Safayifar, director of the Society in Defense of Press Freedom in Tehran, spoke with Radio Farda correspondent Fereydoun Zarnegar. He said the deputies will do everything they can to avoid conflict.

"All of these actions are definitely aimed at avoiding tension and conflict. They are pursuing civil disobedience and proclaiming civil protest in the framework of law, in a way that will not result in a heavy price for the majority of people," he said.

The reformists view the Guardians Council's recent moves as an attempt to gain control over the next parliament. Some 80 of those disqualified candidates were sitting members of parliament.

The council says it rejected many of the candidates because they were not devoted to Islamic principles. Those rejected include many leading reformist personalities and incumbent deputies, including Mohammad Reza Khatami, the younger brother of the Iranian president.

The Guardians Council is due to make a final ruling on the disqualifications by the end of January. A final list of candidates for the parliamentary elections is due to be released on 12 February.