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Iran's Election Chief Threatens to Quit

The head of elections in Iran is threatening to quit unless candidates barred from next month's parliamentary elections are reinstated.

The deputy interior minister in charge of elections in Iran, Morteza Mobalegh, said Saturday he will resign unless he is assured that next month's parliamentary elections are free and legal.

The right-wing conservative Guardian Council created a political storm in Iran last Sunday by barring almost half of the more than 8,000 mostly reformist parliamentary candidates.

While saying the Interior Ministry doesn't have the authority to postpone the elections, Mr. Mobalegh said unless the February 20 vote is open to all candidates he will step down, forcing senior Iranian officials to appoint a new body to oversee the vote.

He said the Interior Ministry, which is under the direct authority of reform-minded President Mohammad Khatami, wants to restore the rights of the barred candidates.

The Guardian Council has the authority to screen all potential candidates, but it has been ordered to re-examine its decision by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Among the candidates disqualified from the election were more than 80 current members of parliament, including the deputy speaker who is the younger brother of Iran's president.

In the meantime, a sit-in protest by dozens of reformist members of parliament continued Saturday with some of the strikers pledging to abstain from food and water during daylight hours.

Several members of parliament, vice presidents and provincial governors have threatened to resign unless the council reverses its ban.