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Iran MPs refuse privileges for supreme leader

TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Iran's pro-reform parliament on Saturday spurned mounting conservative pressure to extend a special budgetary privilege to state bodies controlled by the country's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

It was the latest development in a tug-of-war between the reformist-majority chamber allied with President Moahmmad Khatami and the Guardian Council, a legislative watchdog body dominated by hardline conservatives.

Parliament recently passed a ruling cutting the budgets for the next Iranian year of state-run radio and television and the Guardian Council -- both run by conservatives backed by Khamenei and leading opponents of Khatami's liberal reforms.

But the Council, which oversees parliamentary rulings, rejected the move, arguing that bodies under the leader's control should be exempt from parliamentary supervision.

The new parliament, elected last year, has already been forced to cede a mandate to probe into bodies run by the leader.

But reformist deputies held their ground this time, demanding that the supreme leader and his powerful establishment respect the law.

"We have sworn to safeguard the constitution. If we do not have the authority to decide on budgetary issues, what else is there to do," MP Rajab-Ali Mazrouei told the assembly during a heated debate on changes demanded by the Guardian Council to the budget for the year beginning on March 21.

"The Guardian Council's view that institutions under the leader should act differently is incorrect. Such an attitude will only lead the country to an impasse," the official news agency IRNA quoted him as saying.

The supreme leader, who has disproportionate powers compared to other heads of state in Iran, has blocked efforts by the new assembly to expand press freedoms, one of Khatami's main goals.

Parliament bowed to pressure on another issue and raised the budget for state radio and television, seen by reformers as the main propaganda machine for the powerful conservatives.

If Saturday's rulings again fail to satisfy the Guardian Council, the dispute will be taken up by a higher state body, the Expediency Council, which is itself accountable to Khamenei.

Iran's economy remains stagnant amid the bitter factional row and unclear political and economic direction.

Parliament on Thursday approved the $57 billion budget, boosting spending to jump-start the economy and create jobs.


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