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Last Updated: Friday, 13 February, 2004, 17:28 GMT
Leader urges Iranians to vote
Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei
Ayatollah Khamenei: Accepted Guardian Council's decision
Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called on Iranians to turn out in force for next week's parliamentary elections.

He said this would deliver a "slap in the face" to Iran's enemies.

Several reformist parties are boycotting the polls, saying they have been rigged by supporters of Islamic clerical rule.

The unelected hardline Guardian Council has barred more than 2,300 candidates from standing in the 20 February vote.

A low turnout would increase domestic and international criticism of a vote whose legitimacy has been questioned.

People should go and vote en masse so the elections are held majestically
Ayatollah Khamenei
Reformists say they are unable to compete for more than half of the 290 seats in Iran's parliament, the Majlis.

As a consequence, conservatives are almost certain to regain control of the assembly which they lost to reformist President Mohammad Khatami's allies in the 2000 elections.

Parties boycotting the elections include the Islamic Iran Participation Front, led by the president's younger brother, Mohammad Reza Khatami.

More than 120 reformist legislators have resigned from the outgoing parliament and will not take part in the election.

Students have also called on voters to stay away from the polls.

'Impudence'

Ayatollah Khamenei twice asked the Guardian Council to revise its list of banned candidates, but ultimately accepted its minor amendments and rejected calls for the vote to be postponed.

Vital statistics:
The facts behind daily life in pre-election Iran

"People's presence at the polls will make the country and the nation's future immune to the enemies' aggression and further impudence," Ayatollah Khamenei told thousands of worshippers at Friday prayers in the capital Tehran.

"The election will be a slap in the face for them and disappoint them."

He recommended that electors vote for those who were "religious, efficient, sympathetic and brave."

And he described those boycotting the elections as "very few and sidelined".

About 46 million Iranians are eligible to vote in the elections.

Jim Muir's programme, Iran: A Murder Mystery, investigates why the death of a photojournalist imprisoned for taking pictures outside a Tehran jail remains shrouded in mystery.

It will be broadcast in the UK on BBC Two on Sunday, 15 February at 2100 GMT.


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