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109 Iranian legislators submit resignations
( 2004-02-01 15:25) (Agencies)

More than 100 liberal Iranian legislators handed in their resignations on Sunday, deepening a growing crisis on this month's parliamentary elections that was sparked after a powerful hard-line body disqualified hundreds of would-be candidates.

A letter of resignation signed by 109 legislators was submitted to parliamentary speaker Mahdi Karrubi by reformist legislators who said they could not go ahead with the Feb. 20 elections.

In a letter read aloud in the 290-seat Majlis, or parliament, liberal lawmaker Rajab Ali Mazrouie said that the result of elections held under restrictions imposed by the hard-line Guardian Council would be a foregone conclusion.

"An election whose result is clear beforehand is a treason to the rights and ideals of the nation," the lawmaker told some 200 legislators attending Saturday's session.

He said such elections would be "illegitimate and unacceptable to the nation."

Emergency meeting postponed

On Saturday, President Mohammad Khatami was admitted to hospital with severe back pain, forcing the postponement of an emergency Cabinet meeting that was to have discussed the crisis over parliamentary elections, said a senior official in his office.

Earlier Saturday, Khatami indicated to reporters his government could not proceed with the Feb. 20 polls under the conditions that the hard-line Guardian Council had imposed.

"My government will only hold competitive and free elections ... the parliament must represent the views of the majority and include all (political) tendencies," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Khatami as saying.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, the official in Khatami's office told The Associated Press: "The president has been hospitalized due to a back problem. The president has had a back problems for a long time but due to the pressure of the election dispute, he was unable to hold an emergency meeting today."

Over 1,000 candidates still disqualified

The Guardian Council delivered its final tally of disqualifications Friday for the elections, reinstating 1,160 of the candidates it had disqualified. But the move meant that it has barred over 2,400 reformists -- including 80 incumbent lawmakers.

Initially the council had disqualified more than 3,600 of the 8,200 candidates who filed papers to stand.

On Saturday, Interior Minister Abdolvahed Mousavi Lari said there was no possibility of holding free elections.

"There is no possibility of competitive, free and fair elections," IRNA quoted Lari as saying. "We don't consider this election as legitimate."

Khatami spoke to reporters early Saturday after observing the annual tradition of visiting the mausoleum of the late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the father of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution.

He called an "extraordinary meeting" of the Cabinet for later Saturday to discuss the crisis of the elections, IRNA reported.

His pro-reform government is believed to have two options. One is to refuse to take part in staging the elections, which would mean that hard-liners would hold them -- probably relying on the elite Revolutionary Guards and supporting military forces to organize the polls.

The other option would be to defy the Guardian Council and instruct the Interior Ministry, which would normally organize the elections, to list all disqualified candidates on the ballots.

In an effort to poll public pinion, the Web site of the government spokesman asked Internet surfers Saturday to vote "Yes" or "No" on the second option.

Guardian Council rejects bid to postpone vote

On Thursday, Lari proposed postponing the elections "due to lack of real competition and failure to meet the basic demands of prospective candidates for free elections," but the Guardian Council rejected the proposal.

Most members of the 12-seat council are hand-picked by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Reformists accuse the council of disqualifying liberals to sway the polls in the conservatives' favor. The hard-liners say the disqualified lacked the criteria to stand. But those disqualified include 80 sitting members of parliament.

Saeed Shariati, a leader of Iran's biggest reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, said his party had no option but to boycott the polls.

"The council statement means there is no option left for us but to boycott this sham election ... as Iran's biggest party, almost all our candidates have been barred," Shariati told The Associated Press on Friday.

The front's leader, Mohammad Reza Khatami, who is also a deputy speaker of parliament and one of the disqualified, has said the party will not take part in elections with mass disqualifications "because the result would be clear beforehand."

Khatami is the younger brother of President Khatami, whose program of greater democracy and a relaxation of the Islamic social code has been thwarted by hard-liners who control key organs of state.

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