Stop protest, Khatami tells reformist MPs

TEHERAN: Iran's President Mohammad Khatami called on reformist lawmakers Tuesday to end a four-day sit-in protest over the mass disqualification by a hardline body of candidates for parliamentary elections, MPs said. 

Khatami told protesting MPs in a closed-door meeting at parliament he believed a negotiated settlement could be reached with the hardline Guardian Council watchdog which has barred almost half of the 8,200 candidates for the Feb 20 vote. 

Around 100 MPs had vowed to continue the sit-in until the Guardian Council backs down. 

“Khatami wanted us to stop the sit-in so that parliament can carry on with its duties,” reformist MP Iradj Nadimi said after attending the meeting with Khatami. “Khatami said he thinks there is still a chance to get results from negotiations.” 

Khatami, whose reformist programme could grind to a halt if hardliners refuse to back down, earlier criticised the Guardian Council's decision in a speech to parliament. “The people's right to have free elections should be observed,” he said. 

But he stopped short of reiterating a warning he made on Tuesday that he could lead a mass walkout of reformist officials, many of whom are threatening to resign.  

Most of Khatami's cabinet, including four vice-presidents and 12 ministers have already written to the president telling him they will resign within a week unless the election bans are overturned. State governors have issued the same warning. 

Khatami told state governors on Tuesday: “We will leave together (or) we will stay together.” 

The resignation threats have raised the stakes of the long-running political struggle between elected reformers and unelected religious hardliners. 

Hardliners fear that reforms proposed by liberals on issues such as a free press, women's rights and freedom of speech will eventually undermine the system of clerical rule in place since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution. 

Khatami's reformers say they do not want to dismantle clerical rule but place more emphasis on the observance of the rule of law and people's rights. 

Analysts say the mass vetting of candidates by hardliners – who also control Iran's judiciary, armed forces and state media – was a crude attempt to prevent a repeat of 2000 elections when reformists won about 70% of seats in parliament. – Reuters  

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