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Last Updated: Friday, 16 January, 2004, 14:36 GMT
Iranian reformists dig heels in
Reformist politician Hossein Ansare Rad gives a speech to occupants of parliament
The MPs say they want guarantees of a free election
Reformist MPs in Iran are continuing a parliament sit-in as they wait to see if conservatives will act to diffuse a looming government crisis.

The politicians have vowed to remain until the Guardian Council backs down over a ban on more than 3,000 candidates in next month's elections.

The protest goes on despite Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordering the council to reconsider its ban.

A member of the council described the reassessment process as "agony".

Meanwhile, about 50 people shouted slogans against the sit-in on Friday.

Meeting after prayers, they also chanted "death to America!", according to a Reuters correspondent.


Observers say the protesters have toned down their angry rhetoric as they await the outcome of the reconsideration.

"We want guarantees of a free election with the presence of all the disqualified candidates," said reformist MP Jamileh Kadivar, according to Reuters news agency.

Conservatives demonstrate outside the occupied parliament building
Many sections of the public do not sympathise with the reformist plight
"The sit-in will go on until then."

Meanwhile, a senior cleric and member of the Guardian Council affirmed that it would follow the Ayatollah's "highly instructive" directive that candidates could only be disqualified if they were proven to be incompetent.

But, speaking in a sermon on Friday, Ayatollah Mohammad Emami-Kashani said those candidates had to possess "certain qualifications" to be judged competent.

He said it was difficult and tiring trying to decide which candidates possessed these qualifications - one of which he defined as a demonstrable commitment to Islam.

"I am saying that the burden on the shoulders of the Guardian Council is an agony," he said.

The Council has until 30 January to review the appeals.

Uncertain future

Correspondents say the outcome of this conflict is far from certain.

They say reformists have exhausted the sympathies of many erstwhile supporters, such as Tehran's students, who are fed up with the lack of political progress.

It is also unclear what the response of the reformists - already a fragmented lobby - would be if the ban was only partially lifted.


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