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Last Updated: Monday, 23 February, 2004, 13:54 GMT
Row erupts over Iran poll turnout
Election worker at the Iranian Interior Ministry
The interior ministry says there was a record low turnout
A dispute has broken out in Iran over the turnout in the last Friday's parliamentary elections.

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

The reformist-dominated 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.

Resignations

Despite the latest row, the overall outcome - a sweeping victory for the right wingers - is not in question.

The outgoing reformist-dominated parliament is still supposed to sit for another three months until the inauguration of the new parliament.

But around 120 of its reformist members are going ahead with the resignations they announced in protest at the elections.

The first to resign was one of the women MPs, Fatemah Haqiqatjoo.

She said that the reformist deputies' "crime" was to defend the people's right to vote, but those who were "drunk with power" were unable to tolerate this.

"I ask the Guardian Council to inform the public via the media of the reasons why I was disqualified so that they can judge for themselves the Guardian Council's biased conduct," she said in her resignation speech.

The parliament voted substantially in favour of allowing her to resign. She then thanked the chamber and left.

US ties

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.

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



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