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Iran reformers score another big win, sweep Tehran elections

TEHRAN, March 8 (AFP) - Reformist supporters of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami swept all 15 seats on the Tehran municipal council Monday in another stunning defeat over the Islamic regime's conservatives.

The victory is a powerful endorsement of the president's reform agenda on the eve of his historic trip to Italy, the first to a western European nation by an Iranian head of state since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Pro-Khatami candidates led by former interior minister Abdollah Nuri captured all 15 council seats in Tehran, the biggest prize in a bitterly fought campaign that marked the Islamic republic's first-ever municipal elections.

Nuri led balloting in the capital, according to final results of the February 26 polls released Monday by the official news agency IRNA, after reformers scored major victories around the nation where votes had already been counted.

Women captured three of the Tehran seats, led by journalist Jamileh Kadivar, whose husband is culture minister and whose brother was arrested last month in a case that has outraged students, intellectuals and other backers of reform.

Reform candidates even won two of the six alternate seats, with the closest conservative finishing more than 25,000 votes behind the lowest vote-getter among the 15 reformers elected.

Two of the 15 also had the backing of conservatives but Monday's results confirm a staggering victory for reformers nationwide, who won 124 seats on the municipal councils in Iran's 28 provincial capitals.

Conservatives earned just 44 seats with another 88 going to independent candidates, according to tallies in the Iranian press.

Some 60 percent of Iran's eligible voters, nearly 25 million out of 40 million, took part in the balloting according to official figures.

The decisive victory raises expectations that reformers will take control of the conservative-dominated parliament in next spring's parliamentary elections.

It will also put Khatami supporters in mayor's offices nationwide and one of the first tasks facing the new Tehran council will be finding a successor to Gholamhossein Karbaschi, the former Tehran mayor jailed on corruption charges last year.

Karbaschi, who is close to Khatami, was sentenced to two years in prison and is barred from holding public office while his case is under appeal.

The popular mayor has repeatedly claimed he was set up by opponents and the sweeping victory by reformers indicates popular displeasure with the conservatives' continuing control over Iran's police and judiciary.

The resounding endorsement of Khatami's reform agenda could not come at a better time for the president, who begins a high-profile trip to Italy on Tuesday.

Khatami will meet with Pope John Paul II, Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro and Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema in a visit certain to give a further boost to Iran's international credibility.

The trip comes on the heels of a 540 million dollar deal Iran signed earlier this month with Italian oil firm ENI along with France's Elf Aquitaine, as Khatami seeks to translate respect abroad into badly needed dollars at home.

Iran depends on oil revenues for some 80 percent of its hard currency and has been hard hit by the worldwide slump in crude prices.

The English-language Iran Daily on Sunday highlighted Khatami's trip, stressing that fixing the nation's flagging economy, currently facing a budget shortfall of more than five billion dollars, is "essentially an exercise in public relations."

It said Khatami should seize the moment to demonstrate the country's "stability and the viability of the political system."

It urged him to work toward negotiating a large international line of credit, a task that will be made easier with the resounding mandate of the Iranian people behind him.


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