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Many Top Iranian Officials Threaten to Resign in Ongoing Crisis

Many top Iranian government officials are threatening to resign unless a decision to ban thousands of reformist candidates from next month's parliamentary election is reversed.

Dozens of government officials say they are prepared to step down, including some of Iran's six vice presidents, several presidential advisers, six ministers and 27 provincial governors.

In the meantime, many of the 83 reformist members of parliament who have been barred from participating in the February election continued to stage a sit-in protest in Iran's parliament for a third day, as tensions increase in the standoff between reformists and conservatives.

The crisis erupted Sunday, when the hard-line Islamist Guardian Council disqualified nearly half of the eight thousand candidates who want to run in the election. The council, made up of 12 appointed imams, can overturn legislation passed by the parliament and it also decides which candidates can run for office.

Iran's Etemad newspaper reported that president Mohammad Khatami is threatening to quit if the elections cannot be held. The president has been calling for the crisis to be resolved peacefully and through legal processes.

Mr. Khatami and many liberal members of parliament have made repeated threats to resign in recent years, but they have not gone through with them.

Political science professor Walid Kazziha at the American University in Cairo believes the crisis will resolve itself without widespread resignations in the government. "It is a political crisis, but I don't think it will erupt into something more than continuing tension with some intensity. So my prediction is that there will be a lot of tension, give-and-take, but at the end of the day, conservatives and reformers will come together and decide on a resolution of this conflict," he said.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has said he will intervene if the issue is not settled through normal channels.

The barred candidates have two chances to appeal the decision before official campaigning begins on February 12.

The Iranian parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi said Tuesday he is hopeful that ongoing talks with the Guardian Council will lead to a reversal of the its decision.

The Reuters news agency reports that conservative members of parliament issued a statement Tuesday supporting the Guardian Council's decision. According to the report, the statement says eliminating unqualified candidates is not a violation of people's rights, but rather safeguards their rights.

The United States and the European Union have criticized the move by the Guardian Council, and both are calling for a fair election in Iran, saying anything less would hurt relations, which have been improving in recent months.