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    Iran moderates, conservatives in row over election

    TEHRAN, Oct 1 (Reuters) - Iran's moderates have voiced concern over the rejection of some of their candidates to a powerful state assembly by the conservative-dominated Guardian Council, newspapers reported on Thursday.

    The Servants of Construction, a party set up by top state technocrats who support reformist policies of President Mohammad Khatami, expressed regret in a statement over the rejection of a number of candidates for the upcoming elections of the Assembly of Experts, newspapers said.

    ``Preventing a large number of competent scholars and religious personalities from running for the contrary to the sublime principles of the Islamic system,'' the leading moderate group said, warning that the move would result in a low popular turnout in the October 23 elections.

    The Guardian Council, which screens candidates and oversees elections, has approved just 145 out of a total 396 hopefuls who signed up to run, the Interior Ministry said.

    The council has not announced the final list of the approved candidates yet, who by law should be senior theologians with a solid grasp of politics.

    The elections to the 86-seat assembly, which names and has the power to dismiss Iran's supreme leader, has sparked intense factional fighting, with moderates accusing the Guardian Council of trying to prevent many moderates from running by questioning their qualifications.

    Newspapers said some senior moderate clerics did not attend an examination held by the Guardian Council to test the candidates' knowledge of theology, apparently seing it as an affront to their dignity.

    Mohammad Salamati, secretary of a pro-Khatami Islamic leftist group, accused the Guardian Council of being influenced by factional considerations in rejecting moderate candidates.

    ``The members of the Guardian Council are candidates themselves, and they reject the rival candidates, which is unprecedented throughout the world...This problem is very dangerous and it weakens the system,'' the daily Hamshahri quoted Salamati as saying.

    But the Guardian Council denied in a statement that it had any factional motives, saying it had observed ``nothing but the exact and committed implementation of the law'' in screening candidates, newspapers reported.

    Beside being the first nationwide showdown between Iran's two main political camps since moderates routed conservatives in presidential polls last year, the Assembly of Experts elections are significant due to recent moves by some moderates and dissidents to question the supreme leader's authority.

    The moderates had repeatedly urged the Guardian Council to allow women and non-clerics to run for the Assembly of Experts, which consists entirely of Moslem clergymen. But newspapers said none of the nine women who had signed up to run had been allowed to run, and it was unclear if any non-clerics were among the approved candidates.

    Moderates and left-wing Islamists, whose coalition led to Khatami's landslide victory last year, have complained that many of their candidates had been barred from running by the Guardian Council in recent parliamentary and other elections.



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