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Iran's interior ministry vows to back Tehran reformers

TEHRAN, April 28 (AFP) - The tug-of-war between Iran's rival factions reached a new peak Wednesday as the reformist-led interior ministry vowed to ignore a move by parliamentary conservatives to disqualify five leading moderates in the capital.

The interior ministry insisted that all five of the reformist candidates whose disqualification had been ordered by the head of the conservative dominated election supervision council would be present at the first meeting of the capital's new city council on Thursday.

"All leading vote-getters will be present at the official opening session ... (and) any attempt aimed at disturbing public opinion will not have the least effect," a ministry statement said.

The ministry said the disqualification of the five candidates was merely the "personal opinion" of the supervision council's chief, conservative MP Ali Movahedi-Savoji, and reiterated that the deadline had passed for challenging the results of February's municipal elections, the first in Iran's history.

The most prominent of the five reformers targetted, former vice president and interior minister Abdollah Nuri, accused the election supervision committee of joining in a partisan campaign to undermine the reformist government of moderate President Mohammad Khatami.

The president's opponents were "trying to pressure the government through all the means at their disposal," Nuri told the official news agency IRNA.

The supervision council confirmed the disqualification of the five reformers on Tuesday, just two days ahead of the city council's opening session, and did not include them in a list of final elections results.

Nuri and two other candidates, reformist civil servants, Ahmad Hakimi-Pour and Mohammad Atrianfar, were barred on the grounds that they had failed to resign from their official positions as required before the election.

Former deputy intelligence minister Said Hajarian, who runs the moderate daily Sobh-e-Emrouz, was disqualified because of the "ambiguous nature" of his written commitment to the constitutional principle of velayat-e faqih, or supreme rule by the country's spiritual guide.

And Ebrahim Asqarzadeh, a leader of the 1980 hostage-taking of US diplomats here, was disqualified because of a conviction by a revolutionary court.

Pro-Khatami candidates won all 15 seats up for grabs in Tehran and also made major gains nationwide following a bitterly fought campaign against the conservatives.

Even without the five reformers targetted for disqualification, Tehran municipal council would still be dominated by moderates, although at least three conservative candidates could be coopted through a substitute list.


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