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Conservatives, reformers battle over meaning of Iran vote results

TEHRAN, March 10 (AFP) - Iran's conservatives on Wednesday tried to play down sweeping victories by reformers in the Islamic republic's first-ever municipal elections as both sides battle over interpreting the results.

"Only 30 percent of those eligible participated in the local elections in Tehran," where reformers backing moderate President Mohammad Khatami swept all 15 council seats, the conservative Tehran Times said.

"This nonparticipation should be seriously taken into consideration, particularly by the president," the English-language daily said in a challenge to claims that the vote was a forceful mandate in support of Khatami's pro-reform agenda.

Voter participation in Tehran was actually 40 percent, according to official figures, but still much smaller than expected in the capital, where control of the municipal council was seen as the major prize in the elections.

The paper also took a swipe at Abdollah Nuri, the former interior ministry who led the Tehran polling with some 588,000 votes.

It said that despite his "hobnobbing with the outlawed parties," Nuri's vote tally was "very low compared to previous elections."

Nuri had initially been banned from standing by the election supervision committee, which is dominated by conservatives, and his vote count was well below the one million figure reached by candidates from both sides in the 1996 parliamentary elections.

But the pro-Khatami newspaper Iran Daily said conservatives were trying to make excuses for their drubbing at the polls.

"Instead of analyzing the subject of their defeat from an objective point of view, they have opined that the public could not judge which ... contenders were worthy," the English-language paper said Wednesday.

"People quite consciously voted for political reform," it said, adding that the Islamic republic "will continue to move" in that direction.

Iran's conservative judiciary chief fired the first shot in the battle over interpreting the results on Friday, warning that locally elected officials should keep well away from the broader political struggle natiowide between reformers and conservatives.

"You were elected as local officials and should concern yourselves with local problems, and keep out of factional and partisan disputes," Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi said.

But Interior Minister Abdol-Vahed Mussavi-Lari, a Khatami supporter, fired back Tuesday, saying locally elected reformers should also serve as a base of "strong support" for Khatami's reformist government. vatives.

In addition to sweeping the Tehran council, reformers made strong gains in Iran's other major cities, including Isfahan, Mashhad and Shiraz.


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