Iranian Reformists Vow to Continue Sit-In

Jan 15,
1:08 PM (ET)

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI  

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Reformist lawmakers vowed Thursday to keep up their sit-in protests at parliament despite intervention from Iran's supreme leader aimed at resolving a political crisis over the barring of candidates from next month's elections.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Wednesday ordered the 12-member Guardian Council he appoints to reconsider its disqualification of more than 3,000 people - including 80 sitting reformist lawmakers - as candidates for Feb. 20 elections.

The disqualifications were seen as an attempt to bolster hard-liners in the long-simmering power struggle with allies of President Mohammad Khatami, who seek social and political reform. They sparked daily sit-in protests at parliament.

Protesting lawmakers on Thursday expressed relief at the "first positive results" of their efforts to overturn the council decision. But they said in a statement they would continue protests "until we are confident that the process has reversed."

"There will be no end to our protest unless the illegal trend is reversed and multi-party elections are guaranteed," said Mohammad Reza Khatami, a vice speaker of the parliament who was barred from running. He is the brother of the president.

Meysan Saeidi, another disqualified lawmaker, said he and the approximately 90 other reformists gathering for several hours daily in the parliament lobby, won't call off the sit-ins until all 3,000 people are reinstated.

"We believe the Guardian Council will try to do the least possible in regard to those parts of Khamenei's speech that favored reformists, and to implement to the maximum Khamenei's words that favored hard-liners," Saeidi said.

Khamenei holds ultimate say in Iran and appoints the 12 members of the council. He is seen as the leader of hard-liners, but has reined them in on occasion in the past to prevent an overt clash with liberals.

He met council members Wednesday and told them to reconsider the disqualifications. Incumbent legislators, who would already have been approved by the council for past elections, should be deemed qualified to run "unless it's proven otherwise," Khamenei was quoted by the official Islamic Republic News Agency.

For new candidates, he said, "logical and common qualification is sufficient, and there is no need for further investigation."

Khamenei, however, also instructed the Guardian Council that it should resist bullying tactics used by some lawmakers. He was not specific.

Hard-liners, who control unelected bodies including the judiciary, have thwarted President Khatami's reform plans for years. The Feb. 20 elections are seen as a test for Iran's reformers, whose popularity has waned because of their perceived failure to deliver on promises of liberalization.

About 8,200 people filed papers to run for the 290-seat legislature.