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Iranian President Calls for End of Parliament Protest - 2004-01-14

Iran's president has called for reformist members of parliament to end their four-day sit-in over the disqualification of thousands of candidates for next month's parliamentary elections. The reformist lawmakers have rejected the president's appeal.

Iranian President Mohammad Katami told protesting members of parliament he believes negotiations can lead to a resolution of the political crisis in Iran. He asked them to end their sit-in at parliament and carry on with their duties.

But a prominent member of parliament, Mohsen Armin, said the protesters have decided to ignore the request and continue the sit-in. He is among the legislators who were disqualified from running for another term.

The crisis erupted when the conservative Guardian Council disqualified about half of the more than 8,000 candidates for next month's parliamentary elections. Most of the disqualified candidates are reformists, including more than 80 parliament members.

While promising to work hard for a negotiated settlement of the crisis, President Khatami also criticized the Guardian Council's decision as being contrary to national interests.

The Council is made up of 12 unelected hard-liners who have the authority to veto legislation approved by parliament and screen all candidates for public office.

Political science professor at Cairo University and expert on Iran, Pakinam el-Shakarwy, says that, while the Iranian government has experienced political turmoil before, this time it is serious. She says this crisis will likely end up being resolved by Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Ms. El-Shakarwy says the Guardian Council, in disqualifying the candidates, is testing the political waters.

"I think it is kind of testing. Testing how will be the response of the moderates," she said. "Are they going to go too far or, as in all the previous crises, will it be contained in a way that keeps the status quo as it is with the conservatives controlling some key institutions without any interference from the moderates? I think it is not a good time regarding the regional and international circumstances.

I think it was not the right decision, and I think Khamenei, the leader, will know that. So, I think in the end if the Guardian Council will not retreat about its decision; I think the leader will interfere in a way to return calm and to keep this balance that has already existed for a long a time."

A spokesman for the Guardian Council said Tuesday it will not bow to threats made by many Iranian officials, who say they will resign if the decision is not reversed.