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Sunday, 20 October, 2002, 16:23 GMT 17:23 UK
Khatami rejects 'dictatorship' claims
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami (centre) with MPs and bodyguards outside the parliament
Khatami said threats would not stop his reforms
Iran's reformist President Mohammad Khatami has hit back at his hard-line opponents, accusing them of being afraid of greater democracy and his programme of reforms.

Iran's spiritual leader Ayatollah Khamenei
Supreme leader Ayatollah Khamenei has the final say on all state matters
Addressing the parliament, Mr Khatami rejected claims that his two recent bills were aimed at giving him dictatorial powers, saying instead that unelected institutions posed a greater threat to democracy.

"Only dictators fear democracy," Mr Khatami said to the applause of the reformist-dominated parliament.

"If we're going to be concerned about the formation of a dictatorship... those establishments which have the power of violating constitutional law and are not accountable, should be referred to."

The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran says the bills - aimed at enhancing the president's powers and reforming election procedure - are seen as a last ditch attempt by the frustrated reformists to break through the obstructions raised by entrenched hardliners.

He says the proposed legislation is expected to pass easily through the parliament, but conservative Council of Guardians is equally expected to reject it, leading to a political crisis.

Important message

Mr Khatami ridiculed attacks in right wing circles and media that the proposed bills were dictatorial.

The president said he was struggling for democracy, while it was dictators and would-be dictators who feared the sovereignty of the people.

He said he had both the right and the duty to ensure compliance with the constitution, a power he is seeking in one of the bills currently under review.

"As an elected president who represents the will of the nation, I have responsibility to protect the constitution. I have no right to breach my promises and ignore my responsibilities in getting the constitution enforced."

He said the other bill was aimed at preventing people - a reference to the Council of Guardian - from imposing their personal tastes in the selection of election candidates.

The president said he was willing and even proud to put up with insults and criticism along the way.

But he stressed that his government would not be deflected by threats and pressures and would not put up with obstacles and delays.

Our correspondent says it was an important message of determination from Mr Khatami, at a time when some of his followers were talking about pulling out of the system because of the obstruction by the powerful hard-line minority.

Mr Khatami put the bills to the parliament last month and they are expected to be debated in the coming days.



See also:

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