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Iranian reformers finally get go-ahead to stand on eve of landmark poll

TEHRAN, Feb 25 (AFP) - Less than 24 hours before polls were due to open for Iran's first ever municipal elections, a dozen leading reformist candidates in the capital finally received the green light to stand from moderate President Mohammed Khatami Thursday.

In a last-minute statement carried by the official news agency IRNA, Khatami overruled a disqualification order issued against the candidates by the conservative head of the election Supervision Council, Ali Mohavedi-Savoji.

"To clear up any ambiguity on the issue, the ruling of the arbitration committee stands," Khatami said referring to a ruling Sunday by a committee set up to mediate in the mounting dispute between the conservative-dominated Supervision Council and the moderate-led interior ministry.

The president's ruling was immediately hailed by the reformers, even though they said the order only applied to 11 of the 12 barred candidates.

"This affair has finally been settled and the candidates' names will appear on the lists displayed in the polling stations tomorrow," said a spokesman for former vice president Abdollah Nuri, the head of the main reform list in the capital and the most high-profile of the candidates the conservatives had sought to disqualify.

The conservatives had threatened to cancel Friday's landmark poll in the capital if the interior ministry did not heed its ruling.

"If the interior ministry does not take appropriate measures to remove the names of the 12 disqualified candidates from the election list currently at the polling stations in Tehran, the council will announce the election process in the capital null and void," Movahedi-Savoji said on the eve of the last day of campaigning.

But the reformists added that one of the candidates barred by the Supervision Council, Azam Taleqani -- daughter of Ayatollah Mahmud Taleqani, one of the fathers of the Iranian revolution -- had not been saved by the president's ruling.

She remained disqualified because she had refused to sign the required written declaration of support for the position of supreme leader, the constitutional centrepiece of the Islamic republic, currently held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Nuri's spokesman said.

Control of the capital with its 10 million-plus population is the top prize in Friday's landmark local elections as both Khatami's supporters and his conservative opponents seek to consolidate their local power base ahead of parliamentary elections next year.


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