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Mon 11 Feb 2008 11:24 AM

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Criticism grows over mass rejection of election candidates

Iranian conservative figures have joined reformists in slamming authorities.

Conservative figures have joined reformists in criticising the mass disqualification by the authorities of over 2,000 candidates for parliamentary elections, the press reported on Sunday.

Leading conservative MP Ahmad Tavakoli has written a letter to the hardline Guardians Council, which has the final say in the vetting process, warning the disqualifications could lead to a low turnout in the March 14 vote.

The grandson of Iran's revolutionary founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Hassan, also lashed out at the disqualifications which reformists say have wrecked their hopes of challenging conservative dominance of parliament.

"The quantity and quality of the rejection of candidates has reached such an extent this time that it is worrying the friends of the Islamic revolution," said Tavakoli in his letter to the Guardians Council

"One of the painful results of this situation will be a fall in the turnout of voters at the ballot box as well as damaging consequences at home and abroad," he said, according the the Aftab-e Yazd daily and other papers.

Iranian leaders have said they are expecting a strong turnout as a message to Iran's enemies about the strength of democracy in Iran.

In order to stand, candidates must meet a number of qualifications, one of which is sufficient loyalty to the Islamic revolution and the idea of clerical leadership enshrined by its founder Khomeini.

"This blade has not only decapitated you, it took off the heads of numerous friends in all the social groups and that is regrettable," Hassan Khomeini was quoted as telling reformist leaders on Friday.

"No-one can prevent the people from deciding their future," he added, according to the ISNA news agency.

Hassan Khomeini, the most prominent of Ayatollah Khomeini's grandchildren, is in charge of the care of the mausoleum of the late leader outside Tehran. He rarely makes comments, let alone such outspoken remarks, in public.

The candidates were disqualified in the first phase of vetting by committees working under the Interior Ministry. A second phase of vetting is now being carried out by supervisory committees of the Guardians Council.

The Council then draws up the final list of candidates, which it is due to publish on May 4.

Reformists have already complained that the disqualifications mean they can only mount a serious challenge for 10% of seats in the Iranian parliament.

Former president Mohammad Khatami, the champion of Iranian reformists, has already described the disqualifications as a "catastrophe" which threatens the future of the Islamic revolution.

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