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Iran's Conservative Council Bars 80 Reformist Candidates  from Election - 2004-01-11

Political turmoil erupted in Iran Sunday after powerful conservatives barred large numbers of reformists from entering next month's parliamentary elections. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami Sunday called for calm following the disqualification of a large number of reformist candidates hoping to run for seats in the Iranian parliament.

Mr. Khatami made his comments following a protest Sunday in which most reformist members of parliament walked out of the parliamentary chambers, with some calling for a boycott of the February 20 elections.

One prominent reformist parliament member and one of those banned as a candidate, Mohsen Mirdamadi, described as "an illegal coup d'etat" the action of the conservative Guardians' Council.

A powerful conservative government watchdog in Iran, the council disqualified about 80 reformist candidates from competing in the election.

The 12-member council, although unelected, has the power to veto legislation passed by the predominately reformist parliament. The council's main function is to see that proposed legislation complies with Islamic law and the Iranian constitution. However, it also screens potential candidates and has, in the past, barred hundreds of reformists from taking part in government.

President Khatami said Sunday that while he did not agree with the rejection of the candidates, he felt the matter should be handled through legal channels.

Mr. Khatami is expected to hold discussions with the Guardian Council over the issue. However, the speaker of Iran's parliament, Mehdi Karroubi, said he did not hold out much hope that the talks would lead to a reversal of the council's decision. He predicted there would be widespread popular anger ahead of next month's scheduled elections.

Mr. Khatami has blamed the council for the failure of his administration to enact the reforms he has promised Iranian voters.