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Last Updated: Monday, 23 February, 2004, 13:47 GMT
EU criticises Iranian elections
Jack Straw
Jack Straw described the elections as "flawed"
The European Union has criticised the recent parliamentary elections in Iran as a "setback for democracy".

An EU spokesman, Diego de Ojeda, told reporters it was clear that the elections had not been held according to international standards.

UK Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said the "flawed" polls would have an impact on EU trade talks with Iran.

The international criticism comes in the wake of an ongoing dispute in Iran over the number of people who voted.

The conservative-dominated Council of Guardians has accused the interior ministry of "playing with figures" to lower the politically sensitive turnout rate.

The ministry has put the nationwide turnout at just over 50% - the lowest in any general election since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

But the Council says the real figure is closer to 60%.

The turnout became a major issue because of questions about the legitimacy of the election after the Council had disqualified around 2,500 reformist candidates.

The Council said the disqualifications were necessary because of the candidates' alleged indifference to Islam and to the constitution, or accused them of questioning Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's powers.

In the run-up to the polls some pro-reform groups had called for a boycott, while supporters of clerical rule urged people to vote.

International ties

The EU has been pursuing a twin-track dialogue with Iran based on trade and human-rights issues.

A draft statement from an EU foreign ministers' meeting voiced "deep regret" at the conduct of the polls.

Election worker at the Iranian Interior Ministry
The interior ministry says there was a record low turnout
"The Council of EU foreign ministers expressed its deep regret and disappointment that large numbers of candidates were prevented from standing in this year's parliamentary elections... making a genuine democratic choice by the Iranian people impossible," it said.

In September 2003, the EU threatened Iran with economic repercussions unless it restored international trust in its nuclear programme.

Washington has also criticised Friday's poll, describing it as neither free nor fair.

But the candidate expected to lead the conservative bloc in the new parliament called on the US to recognise the legitimacy of Iran's 25-year-old Islamic revolution as a first step to restoring relations.

"We believe the US government is not willing to hear our nation's message during the last 25 years," Gholamali Haddadadel, whose daughter is married to the son of the supreme leader, said.



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