In a speech marking the 25th anniversary of Iran's Revolution, President Mohammed Khatami warned Islamic conservatives not to ignore the wishes of the people. The Iranian president spoke to hundreds of thousands of people gathered on Tehran's main square for the anniversary celebration.
President Khatami said that ignoring the demands of the people in the name of religion will turn the younger generation of Iranians against the values of the Islamic republic, and possibly against Islam itself.
In a reference to the hard-line Guardian Council's decision to disqualify thousands of reformist candidates from Iran's February 20 parliamentary election, President Khatami said elections are a symbol of democracy and restrictions pose a threat to the stability of the nation.
The president also criticized extremism and those who he said "oppose freedom and democracy in the name of religion." He rejected such views as detestable and violent.
The president, who is Iran's leading reformist, made the remarks to hundreds of thousands of people gathered outdoors around Azadi Square in Tehran to mark the Islamic revolution against Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in 1979.
Many people carried giant placards bearing photos of the father of the Iranian revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is currently Iran's supreme leader.
Some people in the crowd chanted "Death to America" and displayed cartoon posters depicting President Bush as the action hero, Rambo. Others burned effigies of "Uncle Sam," a symbol of the United States. There were also chants of "Death to Britain" and "Death to Israel."
In his address, President Khatami called for Iran to avoid following the path of the west, and also to avoid the path of extremism, in order to fulfill the nation's vision of an Islamic republic that is open to reforms.
He said he will continue along the reformist path, even if he faces strong resistance. He said, "I know no other way than this and I will not choose any other path."
President Khatami has said the coming elections will proceed, and his party will participate, despite the candidate ban, promises by reformers to boycott, and mass resignations in his government