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Last Updated: Saturday, 14 February, 2004, 16:40 GMT
Hundreds more quit Iran election
Workers paste election posters on Tehran billboard
Election posters are going up but so far the campaign is lacklustre
Iran's crisis-hit parliamentary election has suffered a new blow with the withdrawal of 550 candidates who had been qualified to stand.

Another 2,500 would-be candidates have been disqualified by the right-wing vetting body, the Guardian Council.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran says the reformist field is now severely depleted and turnout in Friday's election is expected to be low.

A government poll predicts a turnout of about 30% nationwide.

The biggest pro-reform faction, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, had most of its top leaders disqualified and is not taking part.

Our correspondent says it is unusual for such large numbers of candidates to pull out.

Campaigning has got off to a low-key start, consisting mostly of posters and leafleting.

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

Some analysts believe that in the big cities - especially the capital Tehran - turnout could drop as low as 10%.

Some 80 sitting MPs, including some of Iran's best known politicians, were among the candidates barred by the Guardian Council.

On Friday, Iran's Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, urged Iranians to turn out in force for the elections.

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

Conservatives are now 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.

But eight other reformist groups closer to the centre of the political spectrum are competing under the umbrella title Coalition for Iran.

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

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




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jim Muir
"It's been widely predicted that the turnout will be low"



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