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Registration begins in Iran for local elections

TEHRAN, Dec 28 (AFP) - Hopefuls began registering on Monday for Iran's first local elections since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, seen by Iranian reformers as a major step towards greater democracy.

The landmark vote on February 26 will allow Iranians to elect around 200,000 councilmen and councilwomen in thousands of rural and urban districts throughout the country.

The councillors will be responsible for the appointment of around 720 mayors and supervising their activities as well as ensuring public participation in local social, political, economic and cultural affairs.

Although Iran's constitution contains provisions for local elections, February's polls will be the first since the revolution. Mayors have up until now been appointed directly by the interior ministry.

The direct vote is in keeping with a pledge by Mohammad Khatami, who was elected president in May 1997, to decentralize the government and enhance public participation in political affairs.

Observes believe the move is also a long-term strategy to invigorate the Islamic regime, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in February.

Potential candidates must be at least 25 years old, be literate and not members of any government body or other institution connected with the regime.

Government officials wishing to stand in the local elections are required to resign from their post.

The candidates must also not have a criminal record, sympathy for the former monarchy or be addicted to drugs. They must believe in the constitution and the rule of the supreme leader, a post currently held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The elections have pitted rival factions in the Islamic republic against each other, with the moderates and their left-wing allies accusing the conservatives of seeking to monopolize the councils.

The elections are particularly significant because they grant greater powers to local constituencies ahead of the next parliamentary elections in early 2000.

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