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Sat 23 Feb 2008 05:14 PM

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Over 4,500 permitted to contest Iran elections

However, 2,200 candidates disqualified despite public outcry over vetting procedure.

Iran's hardline vetting body the Guardians Council said on Saturday it will allow more than 4,500 candidates to run for parliament next month but that 2,200 candidates have been disqualified, the official news agency IRNA reported.

"Out of 7,597 candidates who registered... more than 4,500 have qualified" for the March 14 legislative poll, it quoted the body's spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei as saying.

"The Guardians Council disqualified 2,200 candidates," he added.

Kadkhodaei said that 310 candidates had pulled out and 569 had not filed any objection to being disqualified.

The council, which has the final say in the vetting procedure, has already reinstated more than 1,000 candidates who did not make it through the initial screening.

They were disqualified in the first stage of the process by either Interior Ministry executive committees or the Guardians Council supervisory committee.

The ban prompted howls of protest from moderates and reformists who were seen to be the main target of disqualifications. They said it meant they could compete for only 90 to 100 seats in the 290-seat parliament.

Prominent conservative figures added their voices to complaints about the original number of disqualifications.

Reformist former president Mohammad Khatami called it a "catastrophe" while another influential ex-president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, urged the electoral watchdog to reinstate moderate candidates.

Reformists had been hoping to challenge conservative dominance of parliament after losing out to the hardliners following widescale disqualifications in previous parliamentary polls.

One qualification prospective candidates must meet is that they can demonstrate sufficient loyalty to the Islamic revolution and the idea of clerical leadership as enshrined by its founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Rejected candidates have until Tuesday to appeal against disqualification, Kadkhodaei said.

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