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Factional tug-of-war prevents election of new Tehran mayor

TEHRAN, May 25 (AFP) - Tehran's municipal council on Tuesday postponed the election of a new mayor for the second time in a week amid a dispute over who should head one of the world's largest capitals.

"The election of the mayor is not on Tuesday's agenda of the city council meeting," a municipality source told AFP, adding that members of the council had failed to reach a consensus over the candidates.

During the past two days, the media and political circles have been reporting "serious disagreements" between the 15 city council members over the candidates seeking the post of mayor of Tehran.

"Naming a new mayor for Tehran is a crucial and important task," the official IRNA news agency quoted the chairman of the council, Abdollah Nuri, as saying.

"(We) are determined to please the people by appointing a powerful mayor," said the former interior minister.

The council first postponed the election Sunday, officially because of the participation of councillors in a ceremony in Tehran marking the second anniversary of moderate Mohammad Khatami's election as president.

The municipal council is charged with finding a replacement for the former mayor, Gholamhossein Karbaschi, who started serving a two-year jail sentence for corruption this month.

Karbaschi lost his job last year when he was charged with corruption in a case which he and other leading reformers claimed was brought by his conservative political opponents to weaken the Khatami government.

The council, which was elected in Iran's first ever municipal polls in February, is dominated by reformists from various factions backing Khatami, and can choose a mayor from outside its own membership.

Last week, the list of 74 applicants was narrowed down to nine serious candidates.

Three of the nine candidates have already turned down the offer, however, to become mayor of this city of more than 10 million people.

According to IRNA, Mohammad Ibrahim Asqarzadeh rejected the offer at Tuesday's council meeting and called for the election of a new mayor through a "direct vote of the people."

Two other candidates, Soheila Jelodarzadeh and Ezzatollah Sahabi, turned down the offer earlier, leaving six candidates for the post.

According to the press, some council members, including chairman Nuri, favor the election of Mohammad Atrianfar -- a close friend and ally of former mayor Karbaschi.

Atrianfar, a member of the liberal-minded Executives of Construction party, has been Karbaschi's deputy as the chief editor of Hamshahri daily and has worked closely with the popular former mayor for some 10 years.

"The council will name a mayor from among the present candidates or new persons who will be more competent in civil management and eligible for the administration of Tehran," IRNA quoted council chairman Nuri as saying.

Fakhreddin Danesh-Ashtiani, a member of the radical left faction who is close to Khatami, is also considered to be a front-runner.

Former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani reportedly favors Mohammad Gharazi, a former cabinet minister considered close to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khemenei.

February's first-ever municipal elections in Iran were seen as the greatest achievement so far in Khatami's efforts to democratize Iranian politics.

But the battle over the post of Tehran mayor has turned into a political tug-of-war and poses a serious crisis. The president on Sunday during a ceremony marking the second anniversary of his election called on municipal councils across the country to perform their duties without being "bound to a certain political faction."


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