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Khatami does not rule out change of Iranian constitution

September 5, Teheran (dpa) - Iran 's President Mohammad Khatami has said for the first time since he assumed office in 1997 that he does not rule out changes to the constitution, the official news agency IRNA reported Tuesday.

``The constitution is a symbol of national and practical solidarity which distinguishes the government's boundaries and the nation's rights but it could be changed like all other humane laws,'' Khatami told Iranian graduates in New York.

Iran 's constitution orders an Islamic ruling system in the country which is based on the absolute authority of the supreme religious leadership, which is - after the demise of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989 - in the hands of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khamenei constitutionally stands above law and is authorised to interfere in state affairs like he did last month when he called a parliamentary debate on the press law.

Pro-Khatami reformists intend to change the political status quo and decrease the role of Khamenei to supervisory one but the conservative opposition loyal to Khamenei brand the reformists to follow - ``in line with the enemies of the revolution'' - a secular course.

``The people have the right to criticise the government on account of the problems they are suffering, especially in economy and personally I prefer a law-based criticism of the government to an unlawful support of it,'' Khatami said.

Khatami further called on the Iranian expatriates ``not to forget your roots, never forget where you come from and never forget that you are and remain Iranians''.

Khatami is in New York to attend the United Nations Millennium Summit, and also palsn to meet with Iranian expatriates in the U.S.

``I know that there is no deeper pain that being away from the homeland and it is my duty to be also the president of all Iranians abroad,'' Khatami added in the meeting.

Millions of Iranians live abroad in Europe, Asia, Australia and especially the United States. An estimated 2 million Iranians live in the U.S. alone.

Khatami has consistently welcomed the return of Iranian expatriates and stressed that their demands for having a legal guarantee for their return and their investments in Iran .

``The doors of their motherland are always open, they can come anytime,'' he said.

Meanwhile the Iranian Majlis (parliament) intends once again to debate over a bill which grants amnesty to all Iranian expatriates and enables a safe return, the Teheran press reported Monday.

The bill excludes Iranians with proven records of terrorist operations or involvement in armed struggle against the state.

The bill is supposed to be ratified before the end of the Iranian year (March 20, 2001), the reports said.

Last November, the previous Majlis term proposed a similar bill but was later on removed from the agenda although it was supposed to be ratified at the beginning of the current year.

The reformists in the Majlis term had put the issue of preparing legal grounds for Iranians abroad to have full legal security for their return home as one of the priorities in their campaign for last February's election.


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