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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 January 2008, 19:18 GMT
Iran blocks reformist candidates
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Most of the disqualified candidates are Ahmadinejad's opponents
Reformists in Iran says the government has barred thousands of their candidates from standing in forthcoming parliamentary elections.

They say nearly 3,000 candidates, almost half of those standing, have been disqualified.

Most are opponents of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The government confirmed rejection letters had been sent out to several candidates, but officials did not confirm numbers.

The interior ministry's chief electoral officer said candidates could challenge their disqualification by legal means.

But reformists fear most candidates will not be able to re-enter the fray.

The main vetting process, for thousands of remaining candidates, has not yet been completed.
Conservatives' are scared of a reformist victory
Mostafa Tajzadeh, former deputy interior minister

Committees from the interior ministry have been looking into the backgrounds of the 7,168 hopefuls by gathering information from the police, intelligence and the judiciary.

The reformists' coalition spokesman, Abdollah Naseri, said he was surprised by the numbers disqualified.

The coalition, inspired by former President Mohammad Khatami, is made up of 21 pro-reform groups, including Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF) and Islamic Revolution Mojaheddin organisation (IMRO).

One of the main reformist parties said all but seven or eight of its 200 candidates had been barred.

"Conservatives are scared of a reformist victory because of the government's failed economic policies," Mostafa Tajzadeh, a former deputy interior minister, told AFP.

The BBC correspondent in Tehran, John Leyne, says there's been growing criticism of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's handling of domestic policy and that his opponents had been hoping to make gains in the parliamentary elections.

The elections, scheduled for 14 March, are seen as a test of the president's popularity.

Thousands of reformist candidates were disqualified in parliamentary elections in 2004, leading to victory for the conservatives, who took control of the legislature.

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