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Iran reformers make bid for parliament leadership

By Mehrdad Balali

TEHRAN, May 31 (Reuters) - Liberal allies of President Mohammad Khatami said on Wednesday they would mount a fresh challenge for leadership of Iran's new parliament after an initial loss to veteran revolutionaries.

``We will definitely take over part of the leadership after the vote for a permanent presiding board,'' an aide to Mohammad Reza Khatami, the president's brother, told Reuters.

``(Mohammad Reza) Khatami has a 90 percent chance of becoming deputy speaker of parliament,'' he said.

Khatami, who heads the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF), the leading reformist movement, was the biggest vote- winner in Tehran and other big cities and was tipped to take an important post in the new assembly.

But parliament on Tuesday elected two Old Guard revolutionaries and clerics -- Mehdi Karroubi and Majid Ansari -- as interim speaker and his first deputy, ignoring demands from the IIPF and its allies for a younger and fresher representation.

``The traditional model does not guarantee social growth. There is a need for young and little-known faces to run affairs,'' said one pro-reform MP, Ahmad Pournejati.


Mohammad Reza Khatami had earlier said his group had chosen to keep a low profile to avert division within the reformist alliance and prevent possible gains by the minority conservative camp.

But newspapers on Wednesday quoted him as saying his group might mount a fresh challenge in a little over a week.

``We will evaluate the performance of the temporary presiding board. In the meantime, we will try for a single list within the reformist camp,'' he said.

Parliament is widely expected to help consolidate President Khatami's reform programme, stumbling in the face of hardline opposition.

But the pace of reform to be followed by the assembly will not be known until members vote on key issues.

Although the new chamber has a generally reformist tendency, members differ on the degree of commitment to democracy and loyalty to the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Karroubi, once an aide to the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and his alliance of leftist clerics favour change within revolutionary confines.


But the younger reformers represented by the IIPF seek a more flexible approach to cultural and political issues to keep pace with the modern world.

The two groups led a successful battle by the pro-reform camp to throw out a conservative majority from parliament.

But differences grew after the polls, mainly over the choice of the chamber's leadership and the pace of reform.

The IIPF virtually pulled out of the race for the top posts after Karroubi's group was alleged to have contravened an accord on a common list, taking interests of all sides into account.

IIPF had yielded on the choice of Karroubi as speaker, a position he held from 1989 to 1992, but sought to take over two other top posts as his deputies.

The initial choice for the parliament's leadership drew criticism from other reformist deputies, including Hadi Khamenei, half-brother of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

``I do not agree with the choice of the temporary leadership. It was done hastily and does not reflect public demands,'' he said.


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