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Last Updated: Saturday, 24 May, 2003, 23:19 GMT 00:19 UK
Iran reformers in deadlock appeal

By Jim Muir
BBC correspondent in Tehran

Nearly 130 members of the reformist-dominated Iranian parliament have signed an open letter to the country's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, calling on him to intervene to break the political deadlock holding up the reform process.

President Mohamed Khatami
Struggling reformist President Mohamed Khatami has been foiled in parliament

It was the latest move in a political crisis that has been intensifying as reformists become increasingly frustrated by the blocking of new legislation by conservative-controlled bodies.

The reformist deputies who signed the letter warned the Supreme Leader that time was running out.

They said political and social rifts inside the country were coinciding with an external threat, with the emergence of a clear American plan to change the region's geo-political map, making this, they said, probably the most sensitive time in Iran's recent history.

The letter accused unelected right-wing institutions of mounting a concerted campaign to undermine the reformist movement and its chief symbol, President Mohammad Khatami, despite the latter's landslide election victories.

They called for a referendum which would lead to real democracy guaranteeing freedom and dignity.

Dire straits

The letter came less than a week after a similarly dire warning issued by nearly 200 leading liberal intellectuals.

They said they feared the continuation of the present policies by unelected people would take Iran to the point of no return, that despotism and selfishness would make it share the same fate as the Taleban and Saddam Hussein.

These appeals were a symptom of the dire straits in which the reformists find themselves.

Time is running out for them too, with general elections looming next February, with precious little to show for their years in office.

Teheran street
Religious leaders dominate the streets in Teheran, as well as political life

President Mohammed Khatami tried to break the impasse last year by introducing two bills which would enhance his own powers and reduce those of unelected right-wing bodies.

But predictably enough, the bills have been blocked by one of those very bodies. So, the reformists face a major dilemma with few options.

The call for a referendum is constitutionally difficult, unless it is backed by Ayatollah Khamenei himself, which he has shown little sign of doing.

Some deputies favour mass resignation but they seem to be in a minority, which would make it ineffective.

Hence the warnings that if, what reformists see as the will of the people, continues to be frustrated there may be upheavals at home and perhaps growing support for the idea of intervention from outside.

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