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Last Updated: Monday, 16 February, 2004, 22:37 GMT
President urges Iranians to vote
election posters
Analysts say there has been little public interest in the poll
Iran's reformist president has urged Iranians to vote in elections later this week, to stop conservatives from winning control of parliament.

President Mohammad Khatami said despite many pro-reform candidates being barred, voters should pick candidates with views close to their own.

He said a low turnout could mean a minority gaining control of Iran, which would not be in its interests.

The BBC's Jim Muir, in Tehran, says the president had taken an "unusual step".

What has happened has satisfied some and angered many others, but this anger should not push people not to take part in the elections
President Khatami

There has been political turmoil in Iran since the disqualification of thousands of reformist candidates by the hardline Council of Guardians.

The president has disappointed many reformists who hoped he would refuse to endorse the 20 February elections unless they were free and fair.

"What has happened has satisfied some and angered many others, but this anger should not push people not to take part in the elections," the president said in a message carried by the official news agency Irna.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei has ruled that the poll must proceed on time.

Our correspondent says that for Mr Khatami to challenge that would have been to question the foundations of the Islamic republic so he is trying to make the best of a bad job and to persuade the people to vote.

Low turnout predictions

Observers say there is little sign of public interest in the elections.

The poll suffered a new blow on Saturday with the withdrawal of a further 550 candidates who had been qualified to stand.

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

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

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

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

BBC regional analyst Sadeq Saba says some reformist groups are campaigning for a low turnout in an attempt to put the legitimacy of the new chamber in question.

The conservatives, meanwhile, have decided to field less known candidates in an attempt to boost their support, he adds.

They are concerned that their big guns are easily recognisable and they could be shunned by neutral voters.

But conservative victory seems a foregone conclusion and reformists are warning that their hardline rivals may resort to electoral fraud in order to exaggerate the turnout, our correspondent adds.

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

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

The BBC's Peter Greste
"There is no public debate"


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