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Friday, 17 December, 1999, 16:11 GMT
Khamenei targets reformers

Friday prayers in Tehran Thousands called on to participate in elections

By Jim Muir in Tehran

The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has called for big turnout in next February's general elections to foil what he called the plots of Iran's enemies.

Iran crisis
Speaking on the last day for candidates to register for the crucial elections - in which reformists will try to wrest power from the conservatives - the Ayatollah accused some Iranians of trying to undermine unity, faith and hope for the future.

The real struggle over the balance of power in the new Iranian parliament begins now.

Everything depends on who is allowed to stand and who is disqualified.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calls for supporters to foil the plots of 'Iran's enemies'
That if the battle that will be fought during the coming weeks.

In previous elections, a vetting committee supervised by the conservative-dominated Council of Guardians, has managed to eliminate numerous reformist candidates.

Reformist campaign

Under a new election law, though, the council now has to explain in writing why a candidate is refused.

Whether that will cut down the number of disqualifications, remains to be seen.

Top of the list for scrutiny by the vetting committee will be Abdullah Nouri, the man who wants to lead the reformist campaign, and one of the closest political allies of President Mohammed Khatami.

'Serving foreign enemies'

Mr Nouri was jailed last month for five years by a religious court on charges of spreading anti-Islamic propaganda.

He has applied by proxy from his prison cell to run in the elections, but it would be surprising indeed if he were to be approved.

Another unlikely candidate is Ibrahim Yazdi, the leader of the banned but tolerated liberal opposition party, the Iran Freedom Movement.

He has failed in several previous attempts to stand. His movement is currently engaged in a virulent exchange of accusations with the speaker of parliament, Ali Akbar Nategh-Nouri - one of the pillars of the conservative establishment.

Speaking at Friday prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei no doubt had both Mr Yazdi and Mr Nouri in mind when he accused some people inside the country of serving its foreign enemies by trying to undermine Iran's national unity, its faith and its hope for the future.

He stressed the importance of the elections as an occasion for the Iranians to demonstrate their unity and their support for the revolution.

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See also:
14 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Jailed cleric registers candidacy
13 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Iran gears up for elections
12 Dec 99 |  Middle East
Khatami stirs student passions
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Analysis: Where now for Iran's reformists?
27 Nov 99 |  Middle East
Profile of Abdollah Nouri
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Analysis: Student power in Iran
16 Jul 99 |  Middle East
Analysis: Iran's divided society

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