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Tuesday, 15 January, 2002, 18:43 GMT
Walkout victory for Iran reformists
Parliamentary speaker Mehdi Karroubi
The speaker's walkout was followed by 200 MPs
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has pardoned a jailed reformist MP after a walkout by members of parliament.

The walkout was led by reformist speaker Mehdi Karroubi, who declared he would not preside over the 290-seat body until the deputy was released.

I thank all the people who defended my legal rights during my stay in jail

Hossein Loghmanian
The MP, Hossein Loghmanian, had been jailed for 10 months for insulting the judiciary - which is dominated by hardline conservatives - in a speech to parliament.

He was given a warm welcome by MPs on his release who greeted him with with flowers and embraces outside the doors of Evin prison, north of the capital, Tehran.

"I will attend the open session of the parliament on Wednesday. I thank all the people who defended my legal rights during my stay in jail," he told reporters before being driven away.

Ayatollah Khamenei said in a letter read on state television that he had accepted a request for the pardon from judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmud Hashemi-Shahrudi.

The BBC's Jim Muir said the face-saving device temporarily eases the intensifying confrontation between MPs and the judiciary.

Parliamentary support

"I accept your proposal and wish you... every success," the television quoted the letter from Khamenei as saying.

Correspondents say Ayatollah Khamenei clearly felt he had to defuse what was rapidly becoming an ugly political crisis.

Mehdi Karroubi (left) with President  Khatami
The speaker and the president are close allies

The dramatic walkout from parliament brought to a head weeks of protests by MPs, who accuse the courts of ignoring their immunity by prosecuting deputies for statements made inside parliament and at political meetings.

Mr Loghmanian, a veteran of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, made the comments that led to his conviction in a speech to parliament last month.

Mr Karroubi described his 10-month sentence as "unprecedented" in the history of the Islamic Republic and an "unacceptable blow" to the House of the People.

Chanting "Karroubi, we support you", more than 200 deputies left the chamber with him, leaving only 48 behind.

The speaker made it clear he was not resigning, but the move represented, in effect, a strike.

"I will sit in my office and will not lead the parliamentary sessions until this problem is resolved," he said.

Unresolved issues

Correspondents say the pardon may have eased the present crisis, but underlying issues remain unresolved.

Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
The pardon is Iran's supreme leader first intervention in the crisis

For a start, the pardon does not signify that Mr Loghmanian is innocent - merely that the man at the top of Iran's political pyramid has chosen to exercise clemency.

There are also still two other MPs who have received prison sentences but have not been jailed, and dozens more facing prosecution.

Furthermore, the head of the highly conservative Council of Guardians, which vets legislation, has ruled that parliamentary immunity is not an Islamic concept.

Until the pardon, Ayatollah Khamenei had remained non-committal during the long-running confrontation between parliament and the judiciary.

He has said only that the law was clear and that there were existing mechanisms for settling disputes.

Vendetta claim

The judiciary is accused of pursuing a factional vendetta aimed at paralysing the reformists, who won a landslide victory in the last elections.

The judiciary argues that the deputies have broken the law and must face the consequences.

It has been the main instrument for a crackdown which has seen dozens of newspapers banned and many liberal figures jailed in the past few years.

The BBC's Jim Muir
"The deadlock did not last long"
Prof. Sadeq Ziba-Kalam, Tehran University
"The Ayatollah intervened out of pressure from parliament"
See also:

15 Jan 02 | Middle East
Iran's slow struggle for reform
29 Dec 01 | Middle East
Iran court cuts reformists' sentences
26 Dec 01 | Middle East
Anger as Iran MP is jailed
19 Apr 00 | Middle East
Iran outcry over rowdy conference
18 Oct 00 | Middle East
UN criticises Iran's human rights
14 Jan 01 | Middle East
Germany's 'concern' at Iran verdicts
09 Nov 00 | Middle East
Uproar as Iran judge accused
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