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Islamic Hard-Liners Attack Reformist Gathering in Iran - 2004-01-22


A group of Islamic hard-liners has attacked a reformist gathering in Iran, injuring five people. The assault marks the first episode of violence in Iran's political standoff between reformists and conservatives over next month's parliamentary election.

Chaos erupted late Wednesday when a pro-reform speaker criticized the Guardian Council during a meeting in the western city of Hamedan.

Iran's state-run news agency reports that some 200 hard-liners rushed the podium and fighting broke out.

Several people were reported injured, including some reformist lawmakers.

The episode reflects the rising tensions in Iran's most recent political crisis, which began two weeks ago when the conservative Guardian Council disqualified thousands of reformist candidates, including members of parliament, from next month's general election.

In response to the mass exclusion of candidates, dozens of lawmakers staged a sit-in inside parliament and a number of cabinet members and top government officials threatened to resign unless the Guardian Council reverses its decision.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called on the Guardian Council, which is an unelected but powerful body of 12 Islamic clerics and lawyers, to complete a thorough review of the barred candidates.

The council began its review process earlier this week. So far, some 200 of the 3,600 blacklisted candidates have been reinstated, and more candidates are expected to be approved in the coming days.

The United States has renewed its call for Iran to hold a free and fair election, and says it is watching the unfolding events closely.

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