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More Than 100 Iranian Deputies Resign In Protest

Tehran, 1 February 2004 (RFE/RL) -- More than one-third of Iran's parliament, the Majlis, resigned today to protest a decision by conservative Islamic hard-liners to disqualify reformists from competing in upcoming elections.

A letter of resignation was submitted to parliamentary speaker Mahdi Karroubi, who announced the resignations in the legislature today: "We declare that 109 MPs have separately presented their resignations. And we are all very sorry and saddened by that and certainly all the nation and the authorities are too."

At least eight more lawmakers added their names to the list as the group gathered in the center of the parliament to show their solidarity and hand in their resignations -- making a total of at least 117 reformist lawmakers that have resigned so far.

The resignations came as Iran began 10 days of celebrations to mark the success of the 1979 Islamic revolution that deposed Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi and brought a clerical government to power.

Karroubi said each resignation will be discussed and put to vote in future sessions of the parliament. But he did not say how long the process will take. He insisted that the final decision on the resignations rests with the parliament.

Among those who resigned were some 80 sitting lawmakers who have been disqualified from running in the 20 February legislative election. Also among the group were other reformists who initially had been banned from the elections but were reinstated later.

Reformist lawmaker Rajab Ali Mazrouie read a letter to the 290-seat Majlis complaining that the restrictions imposed by the conservative hard-liners in the Guardians Council would make the elections results a foregone conclusion.

Mazrouie said "an election whose result is clear beforehand is a treason to the rights and ideals of the nation."

Mohssin Mirdamadi, chairman of Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Committee, complained about the continued closures of reformist newspapers as well as the arrests of political dissidents and students.

Mirdamadi, who had been one of three main leaders of the group that seized 52 hostages at the U.S. embassy in 1979, said the deadlock over elections to the Majlis has become the main political problem in Iran today.

"Our main problem today is the plundering of the greatest achievement of the revolution and the main symbol of antidictatorship of the [Islamic] regime, which is an independent and free Majlis [parliament]."

The resignations came a day after the pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami called off an emergency cabinet meeting that was to deal with the confrontation between reform-minded legislators and the conservative Islamists in the powerful Guardians Council.

Earlier yesterday, Khatami had suggested his government would call off the 20 February election. He also called the parliamentary ballot undemocratic because a total of some 2,400 reformist candidates had been disqualified by conservative Islamic clerics.

But after he made those remarks, Khatami's doctors said the Iranian president had developed severe back pain and would be confined to his home for the next few days.

Today, however, Khatami was already out of his home to attend the opening of a new international airport in Tehran. Observers say the speech the president made at today's ceremony, which focused on the political crisis, was aimed at dispelling fears he may have been politically sidelined by conservative hard-liners.

In today's speech, Khatami said conservatives have challenged his credibility as a president who has promised to deliver "Islamic democracy" to the country. The state news agency, IRNA, quoted the president as saying: "Only those who yield to public will can survive, while those confronting the people are sure to be wiped away."

Karroubi says he and Khatami had met recently with Iran's Supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who handpicks most of the clerics on the Guardians Council and can overrule its decisions.

Karroubi also has accused the Guardians Council of "disrespecting democratic values and having no faith in a popular vote." Today, Karroubi questioned the loyalty of the Guardians Council to Islam, asking if it is possible to be loyal to the Islam by praying daily while trampling on the rights of the people.

Correspondents report that Iranian Vice President Mohammad Ali Abtahi attended today's parliamentary session. Reports say the vice president appeared shocked and concerned about developments. Abtahi did not talk to reporters.

President Khatami's brother, Mohammad Reza Khatami, accused the Guardians Council of killing off Iran's reform movement. He said the Guardians council "has killed all opportunities" for reform, and that there is "no hope for a solution." He repeated the pledge by reformists not to participate in what he called a "sham election." He said that even if all the disqualified reformists are reinstated today, there still will not be enough time for a fair election campaign.

The president's brother said that if hard-liners go ahead unilaterally with the elections, "it will be a full-fledged coup with the help of military forces" and a confirmation that the elections are not legitimate.