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Last Updated: Monday, 12 January, 2004, 13:07 GMT
Iranian leader shuns intervention
Iran's Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
All state decisions must be approved by the unelected supreme leader
Iran's supreme leader has said the controversy over next month's parliamentary elections must be resolved through legal channels.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said he would only intervene after legal procedures had been exhausted.

The row began after the Guardian Council - a hardline body made up of clerics and Islamic lawyers - barred 2,000-plus reformists from standing.

The decision provoked a storm of protests from reformers.

The provincial governors in charge of administering the elections say they will resign unless the ban is reversed, and 80 reformist deputies are continuing a sit-in inside the Iranian parliament.

BARRED FROM STANDING
More than 80 reformist MPs
Majority of candidates from the reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front
Two female legislators who have fought for women's rights
Hundreds of other reformist candidates
Reformist President Mohammad Khatami has appealed for calm.

Most of those disqualified are believed to have appealed, and their cases will be examined by the Guardian Council over the next two weeks.

They include include Mohammad Reza Khatami, the younger brother of the president, and Behzad Nabavi - who are both deputy speakers of parliament.

'Judgment and duty'

Ayatollah Khamenei said that if there were a large number of questionable disqualifications, he would use his constitutional powers to try to redress the situation.

"At this stage we have legal channels and everyone should act based on law," he said in comments carried by state radio.

"If it gets to the point that it becomes sensitive and requires a decision... there is no doubt that I will step in and act in accordance with my judgment and duty, as has been the case in the past."

The 12-member Council of Guardians is empowered to ensure parliament's actions comply with Islamic principles.

Council spokesman Mohammad Jahromi said 2,033 of the 8,200 candidates had been barred but MPs said the figure was higher.

MP Reza Yousefian said more than 80 of 290 MPs had been banned from re-election.

Iran's parliament is dominated by the reformists, who have won all major national elections since 1997.

European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who is currently visiting Tehran, has said that a clear and transparent electoral process was very important to the EU.

"It's very difficult for me to explain [to the European Parliament] how MPs who are representatives of the people could not participate again in the election," he said.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jim Muir
"The reformists argue the disqualifiations damage Iran's international standing"



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