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Top judge says he is stepping down

TEHRAN, June 8 (Reuters) - Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, the head of Iran's judiciary and a hardline conservative, said on Tuesday he was stepping down after 10 years in office, according to state radio.

The ayatollah, an influential member of the conservative clerical establishment, has been an outspoken critic of the relative press and intellectual freedom in Iran under its moderate president, Mohammad Khatami.

His courts have taken increasingly harsh measures against liberal thinkers and journalists. That position made him immensely unpopular among reform activists, who have repeatedly accused him of playing partisan politics and called on him to resign.

The radio report said Yazdi made the announcement at a meeting at the supreme court on Tuesday.

"Serving my final weeks at the judiciary, I am of the belief that I have done my job. With a change of the head of the judiciary, no changes will take place in the trend of affairs," he was quoted as saying.

Yazdi, appointed as judiciary head by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will have completed his second five-year term in mid-August.

Newspapers earlier said Yazdi had volunteered to leave the judiciary because of illness, but his statement on Tuesday was the first time he has mentioned his departure so openly in public.

Yazdi on Tuesday denied his judiciary was influenced by politics: "The reason behind the publication of some materials against the judiciary is that the judiciary is independent and reputable. It has never been influenced by political and factional issues."

Newspapers say he will most likely be succeeded by Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi, a member of the Guardian Council, a senior body overseeing legislature and elections in Iran.

Although a conservative, Hashemi has taken a low profile in the political dispute in the country since Khatami's election in 1997.


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