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Iranian Supreme Leader Calls for Second Review of Candidates - 2004-02-04

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has intervened for a second time in Iran's election crisis.

A government spokesman says the ayatollah, who has the final word on all state matters in Iran, has called for a second review of about 2,000 candidates who were banned from running in this month's parliamentary election by the conservative Guardian Council.

The ayatollah also said that the election should go ahead as scheduled, on February 20.

In remarks broadcast on Iran's state television, Ayatollah Khamenei played down the severity of the election crisis, and said he believes the current election dispute can be resolved.

But political analyst Abdullah el-Ashaal of the al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, says the ayatollah is trying to carefully navigate a deepening impasse between Iran's secular and religious authorities.

"The fact that the guardian of the revolution, Mr. Khamenei, is not able, until this morning, to resolve the problem reflects on the crisis and the trouble of the regime itself. He wanted to be neutral," he explained. "And this is why there is another risk that his authority also is not taken seriously by both of them. But according to the constitution, he is the highest authority, and he has to say something. The crisis is so deep that, for him, it's dangerous and risky to put all of his weight behind someone, or even to support a certain compromise, which is not totally acquiesced by both of them."

Ayatollah Khamenei met Tuesday with Iran's president, Mohammad Khatami, and parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi in an attempt to work out a compromise.

The crisis began three-weeks ago, when the Guardian Council, an appointed group of 12 Islamic clerics and jurists with powers to block legislation and screen candidates for office, eliminated more than a third of the election hopefuls. Most of those banned were reformists. The ayatollah first intervened in the standoff by ordering the Guardian Council to complete a full review of all the 3,600 candidates it disqualified.

The council complied with the ayatollah's order, and reinstated about 1,100 candidates.

But reformers said the Guardian Council did not go far enough, because thousands of prominent candidates were still barred. Reformists believe that if such large numbers of candidates are not allowed to run, conservatives could easily regain control of Iran's parliament, where reformists have held a majority of seats for the past several years.

Many members of Iran's government have called for a postponement of the election.

More than 120 members of parliament resigned to protest the Guardian Council's decision to block the candidates and prevent more than 80 sitting members of parliament from seeking re-election. The resignations have not yet been accepted.

Iran's main pro-reform party has urged its members to boycott the election, if the bans are not overturned.

Some reformist lawmakers say they are optimistic that more candidates will be reinstated.