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Khamenei Staying Out of Iran's Political Dispute for Now - 2004-01-12

Iran's provincial governors are threatening to resign unless a decision by the conservative Guardian Council is reversed. The council disqualified hundreds of reformist candidates from upcoming parliamentary elections. Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says for now, he will not intervene in the dispute.

Political turmoil erupted in Tehran Sunday when Iran's conservative Guardian Council disqualified about half of the more than 8,000 candidates seeking election to the Iranian parliament. Eighty of the disqualified candidates are reformist members of the current parliament.

The 12-member Guardian Council is made up of conservatives selected by the supreme leader.

The council's decision to disqualify the mostly reformist candidates has been met with opposition from pro-reform Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, who has pledged to meet with the Guardian Council in hopes of getting the decision reversed.

Monday, Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state, said he would not intervene in the dispute until all legal steps have first been exhausted.

The head of the al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, Abdel Moneim Said, says the council traditionally screens potential candidates to make sure they adhere to the principles of the 1979 Iranian revolution.

"They disqualify people that they think are not going with the ideological point of the revolution, and that's a kind of an elastic guideline," he said. "I mean, when they want moderation and allow more reformers, then they relax. When they want more extremists then they become stringent."

Sunday's decision caused reformist members of parliament to walk out in protest. Some called for a boycott of the February 20th elections. And, Iran's 27 provincial governors said they will resign if the decision is not changed in one week.

The European Union foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, who is visiting Tehran, said Monday criticized the disqualification and called for a fair election.

Last year, there were several student protests in Tehran calling for more liberal government policies. Those protests were violently broken up by police and right-wing gangs.