Tue, Feb 17, 2004 - Page 7 News List

Student group slams Khatami for conciliation

BOYCOTT Iran's president gave orders for a vote to proceed despite reformist candidates' having been excluded by conservatives


Iran's largest reformist student movement denounced President Mohammad Khatami on Sunday for giving in to hard-line demands to hold a legislative election he himself has called unfair.

The Office for Fostering Unity called on Iranians to boycott Friday's election, from which about 2,400 reformist candidates were barred by hard-liners. Liberal lawmakers and academics have dubbed the election a sham, reformist parties have boycotted the polls and hundreds of approved candidates withdrew their names in protest.

"Through accepting to hold this sham election ... Khatami effectively gives priority to implementing illegal demands of unelected conservatives at the cost of slaughtering justice, freedom and people's rights," the office said in a statement.

A reluctant Khatami gave in to an order from Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to hold the vote but said it would be unfair and give people little motivation to participate.

"Dialogue to reform the establishment in the way Khatami has defined has reached a dead end," the statement said.

"The absolute power of appointed institutions and their resistance against the voted reform movement has revealed the inefficiency of reforms under the existing structure of the establishment," the statement said.

Meanwhile, prominent jailed reformer Hashem Aghajari called on the nation to send a message to the ruling establishment by boycotting the polls.

"The sham election is the end of reforms within the establishment. The Iranian nation has learned now that there is no hope of a democratic change under the ruling system," Aghajari wrote in a letter from Evin prison, where he is serving a four-year term for questioning clerical rule.

The letter was made available by Aghajari's wife, Zahra Behnoodi.

Aghajari said the solution to the deadlock was "referendum, amending the constitution and bringing fundamental changes in the ruling system."

Iran's biggest political crisis in years was triggered when clerics of the Guardian Council -- an unelected hard-line body that vets candidates -- last month banned more than 3,600 candidates, nearly all of them supporters of efforts to expand Western-style democracy and loosen strict interpretations of Islamic codes in areas such as social activities and the media.

About 130 members of parliament resigned in protest and almost all reformist parties, including the largest -- the Islamic Iran Participation Front -- have announced a boycott of the elections.

The Guardian Council, whose members are hand-picked by Khamenei, reinstated about 1,200 candidates in stages after sit-ins and protests by liberal politicians and backers. The rest remained blackballed -- all leading reformists, including 80 sitting lawmakers.

Since campaigning began Thursday, more than 607 candidates have withdrawn from the race, the Interior Ministry said. Some apparently pulled out to protest the disqualifications, while others hoped to increase chances of hard-line candidates running under the new name of "Developers of Islamic Iran."

Prominent hard-liners Habibollah Asgaroladi and Assadollah Badamchian said they withdrew because "we consider Developers of Islamic Iran as ourselves."

The group consists of extremists within the hard-line camp; reformers charge that the group's 30 candidates were chosen by Khamenei.

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