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Author Topic:   All About Presidential Election in Iran (June 8th)..
Vatandoost
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posted April 12, 2001 17:45     Click Here to See the Profile for Vatandoost   Click Here to Email Vatandoost     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Reformists warn of threat to Iran's Islamic system

The Financial Times
By Guy Dinmore in Tehran

April 10 2001 20:58GMT

Pro-reform delegates from the majority faction in Iran's parliament on Tuesday condemned the judiciary for its arrest of more than 60 nationalists over the past month. The delegates warned that hardliners
blocking President Mohammad Khatami threatened the survival of Iran's Islamic system. The confrontation between parliament and hardline clerics in the judiciary lies at the heart of Iran's power struggle in the run-up to presidential elections on June 8. The crackdown on the media and political activities has exposed rifts among Mr Khatami's supporters, with some despairing of the regime's capacity for reform and arguing that the president should
give up.

No serious candidate for the presidential election has stepped forward. Mr Khatami's own enigmatic remarks on his intentions have confused voters.

The Revolutionary Court at the weekend arrested 42 nationalist activists, saying it was acting on confessions of others seized last month. About a dozen have been released. Ali Mobasheri, head of the court, said the
accused, some of them elderly intellectuals active in the 1979 Islamic revolution, were conspiring to topple the system.

Ali Younesi, the intelligence minister, told a parliamentary commission that he only learned of the arrests through the newspapers - an illustration of Mr Khatami's lack of power in the face of the judiciary's use of Revolutionary Guards and their intelligence agents outside his control.

Behzad Nabavi, the deputy speaker of parliament, drew cheers from fellow MPs when he said the government knew of no justification for the arrests. Another delegate attacked "arrests, trials, infringing of people's rights, detaining individuals because of their thoughts, tortures, insults and even murders".

Ahmad Shirzad, an MP from Isfahan, was quoted by newspapers as warning that an election without Mr Khatami would mean an election without any reformist candidate. "A political arena with no reformists will pave the way for a harsh purge in pseudo-legal or illegal methods, leading the country to the point of no return."

In an effort to repair relations between Germany and Iran after months of turmoil the two countries on Tuesday agreed measures to boost trade and German investment in Iran, Tobias Buck reports from Berlin.

Close ties between the countries came under pressure this year, when an Iranian court handed down long prison sentences to the Iranian participants of a conference in Berlin a year ago.

At a two-day meeting of business representatives from both nations in Berlin, Werner Muller, Germany's economics minister, and Hussein Namazi, his Iranian counterpart, signed an investment protection treaty to put German investments in Iran on to a secure legal footing.

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Khatami said to have announced his candidacy at cabinet meeting

BBC Monitoring Service
Apr 11, 2001

Text of report by Iranian newspaper Hayat-e Now web site on 11 April

It is being said in the corridors of the Majlis that Seyyed Mohammad Khatami will be taking part in the forthcoming presidential election.

It has also be said that, at the recent cabinet meeting, he announced that he would be a candidate in the 1380 [2001] election.

In the meantime, the 1380 election was on the agenda of the Participation faction's meeting yesterday evening. No details are available about the discussions.

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Presidential hopefuls must declare by May 6

TEHRAN, April 11 (AFP) - Candidates for Iran's June 8 presidential elections must register in the first week of May, the interior ministry announced in a statement published in Wednesday's press. Hopefuls must declare their candidacies for the eighth presidential polls since the 1979 Islamic revolution between May 2 and 6, the ministry said.

Reformist President Mohammad Khatami who came to power in May 1997 with an overwhelming 70 percent of the popular vote, has not yet announced whether he will stand for re-election.

The eligibility of candidates will be examined by the conservative-led oversight Guardians Council, while supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei must approve any political or religious personality who is running for the first time.

Khatami's brother, who heads the country's main reform party, said Sunday the president "has serious doubts and has still not said clearly what he intends to do, neither to me nor to the leadership of the 2nd of Khordad Front," the reformist coalition backing him.

Mohammad-Reza Khatami said the head of state, who is beset by his conservative opponents, would not announce his decision until the last minute.

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Reformist Tehran City Council member tipped to join presidential race


BBC Monitoring Service
Apr 11, 2001

Text of report by Iranian newspaper Iran web site on 11 April

We have heard that Ebrahim Asgharzadeh, a member of the Tehran City Council, has embarked on extensive activities towards participation in the 1380 [2001] presidential election.

One of the [Majlis] deputies told our correspondent in this respect: Asgharzadeh believes that any activity that raises the turnout is necessary for the election and he has decided to join the race himself to this end.

Dr Mohammad Reza Khatami, the secretary-general of the [Islamic Iran] Participation Front, for his part, told our correspondent: We welcome anyone's participation in the election and believe that the greater the rivalry, the greater the turnout.

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Iran reformists fear slim margin of victory for Khatami

TEHRAN, April 17 (AFP) - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami seems certain to be re-elected if he stands in the June polls, but lower voter support than expected could end up as a victory for his conservative rivals.

The moderate cleric swept to office in 1997 with nearly 70 percent of the ballots cast, winning some 20 million votes with a pledge to impose the rule of law and institute liberalising economic, social and political reforms.

But a weaker show of support this time around would amount to a win for conservatives, who have used their control over key state institutions such as the courts to close down newspapers and jail journalists and reformists.

"That is why Khatami is still hesitating," says political analyst Iradj Rashti, noting the reformist president's continuing silence about his political intentions less than two months before the election.

"He knows the balance sheet of his four years is blackened by the arrests and press closures, which he has deplored without really criticising them, because there is nothing he can do," Rashti says.

"He knows his powers are very limited and that the conservatives will not yield on anything," he said.

Khatami "wants more than 20 million votes, just as much as he had in 1997. Between 13 and 15 million this time, even if it represents 70 percent of the votes, would be a failure in his eyes," Rashti said.

Analyst Dariush Abdali notes that Khatami, who remains a popular figure despite the political setbacks, depends for much of his stature on the support of the people.

Reformists "know that Khatami's popularity is his power," he says. "They want this election to be a landslide, a referendum for Khatami."

But Abdali says that, unlike in last year's parliamentary elections, when Khatami's allies ousted the conservative majority in the legislature, this time around reformists are handicapped by all the newspaper closures.

"Their press has been muzzled, and the parties don't even have the ability to mobilise," he says. "The climate now is nothing like last year's, which was just opening up."

He warns that it is impossible to judge the level of disappointment the people feel in Khatami, who has unable to achieve many of his goals set out in the last campaign.

"No one can say how the disappointment felt by many Iranians will play itself out," he says. "That will be the unknown factor in this election."

MP Jamileh Kadivar, the wife of the former culture minister who stepped down last year amid harsh criticism from conservatives, was quoted in Tuesday's press saying the president had to make strong showing at the ballot box.

Reformists "want Khatami to be re-elected with more votes (than last time)," the government-run Iran daily quoted her saying. "His candidacy for a second term is inevitable. It is a must."

Her husband, Ataollah Mohajerani, is no longer talked about as a potential presidential candidate from the reformist camp, where the names of Tehran MP Mohsen Armin and city councillor Ibrahim Asgharzadeh -- one of the leaders of the 1979 seizure of the US embassy -- are also being mentioned.

From the conservative side, former labour minister Ahmad Tavakoli has announced he will stand in the June 8 polls. His candidacy is expected to de-politicise the election by focusing largely on economic issues.

Influential conservative theoretician Mohammad-Javad Larijani said he expects Khatami will be re-elected, "but his numbers will clearly be much lower."

But Rashti says Khatami's candidacy will amount to the president "accepting to ensure the permanence of the regime."

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Khatami "definitely" running for re-election: advisor

TEHRAN, April 18 (AFP) - President Mohammad Khatami will definitely stand for re-election in June, his advisor and former culture minister Ataollah Mohajerani said in Wednesday's press. Mohajerani, whose name had been mentioned as a possible reformist candidate for the June 8 polls, told the Abrar paper he would not stand himself because the president would seek a second term.

"There is no place for me in these elections or even for those like me," he told the conservative daily. "I know that Khatami will definitely stand in the elections."

Khatami has still not broken his silence over whether he will seek another four-year term, sparking widespread speculation over the future of reforms in Iran.

The president's reform agenda has been stymied by the conservative-led courts, which have closed more than 30 newspapers and journals and arrested Khatami allies, leading opposition figures, journalists, and reformists.

Mohajerani resigned last year amid harsh criticism from conservatives, particularly over his handling of the press as head of the culture ministry.

The pro-reform Hayat-e No newspaper said Wednesday Khatami had outlined "some conditions" for his candidacy in a recent meeting with key members of his reformist coalition.

An overwhelming majority of MPs have signed an open letter asking Khatami to seek a second term.

The call has been echoed by groups of women and students, two constituencies who helped propel him to office in 1997 with nearly 70 percent of the popular vote.

Presidential hopefuls must declare their candidacies by May 6.

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Khatami's choice

The Financial Times
By Guy Dinmore

Hardline clerics are cracking down in an effort to stop Iran's president from standing for re-election,

April 24, 2001


It is spring in Tehran and camels are once again plodding along traffic-choked highways bearing sacks of dung for the rose gardens that Iranians love. But with a presidential election approaching on June 8, many citizens fear that the country's political and theological spring under Mohammad Khatami, its reformist but relatively powerless president, is coming to an end.

Tehran's Revolutionary Court, dominated by ultra-conservative clerics opposed to Mr Khatami, is certainly doing its best to give that impression. In recent weeks, it has detained about 70 political activists - mostly students, journalists and academics. Mr Khatami's supporters view the arrests - and the closure of four pro-reform publications - as an attempt to dissuade the president from standing for re-election or to erode his support by demonstrating his impotence.

"Definitely the hardliners and totalitarians are seeking to shut up every opposition voice no matter where in society, the universities and parliament," says Mohammad Dadfar, rapporteur for a parliamentary commission investigating apparent abuses of political and civil rights. Mr Dadfar puts a brave face on it, insisting that there is still some momentum behind liberal reforms and that the acts of repression demonstrate desperation among hardliners, who face another electoral defeat.

There are signs that Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is vested with the most constitutional powers, is trying to defuse what is becoming one of the most severe tests for Iran's theocracy since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, the head of the judiciary and a close associate of Mr Khamenei, last week held two days of meetings with senior judges. Mr Shahroudi's reported comments showed the delicate balancing act that the supreme leader is attempting. Despite his religious power base, Mr Khamenei lacks the authority of his predecessor, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the revolution.

On the one hand, Mr Shahroudi warned judges not to abuse their powers and urged them to meet the demands of parliament by releasing information that would justify the conspiracy allegations. But he also said the judiciary should not be swayed by outside pressures. The hardliners' rebuff came swiftly. More arrests were carried out and Ali Mobasheri, head of the Tehran Revolutionary Court, said "confessions" of the accused and "irrefutable evidence" of a coup plot would be released "at the right time".

The manner of the arrests illustrated Iran's dual power structure. Instead of using the services of the police and the intelligence ministry - both institutions broadly loyal to the president - the courts have employed the Revolutionary Guards to carry out intelligence gathering and the arrests. The political detainees are being held in a prison run by the guards.

The pressure on Mr Khatami not to stand again has been increased by a death sentence reported to have been imposed on Hasan Yusefi-Eshkevari, an outspoken and popular cleric. Mr Yusefi-Eshkevari has, with some of the detainees and some senior figures in the clergy, questioned the absolute powers of the supreme leader. He insists that Shia Islam - the dominant theology in Iran - is a religion open to interpretation.

But associates of the president believe he will not succumb to pressure and will announce his candidacy during the week-long registration early next month. In private, they say Mr Khatami's silence on the issue is a tactical ploy designed to garner popular sympathy and to ensure a large turnout on June 8 to match his landslide victory in 1997.

While pro-reform strategists appear confident that the repressive actions of the hardliners will react against them, the mood on the university campuses that spearheaded Mr Khatami's last campaign is increasingly of anger and despondency.

Last Tuesday, several hundred students gathered at Tehran's Amir Kabir university - named after a 19th-century reformist who was murdered in his bath - to hear speeches defending the arrested nationalists. Some speakers even dared to cross one of the "red lines" in Iranian politics by attacking Mr Khamenei for his support of the media crackdown and for failing to curb the judges he has appointed.

It was after similar speeches at Amir Kabir four months ago that the Revolutionary Court arrested Ali Afshari, a student leader, and Ezatollah Sahabi, a veteran nationalist who spent about 12 years in prison for opposing the last shah, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. One student on Tuesday drew applause by praising Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, who has been under house arrest in the holy city of Qom since 1997 for questioning the religious credentials and powers of the supreme leader. Mr Montazeri, whose son is under arrest, has been accused by a senior judge of financing nationalists.

Even Mr Khatami was not spared criticism. "Unfortunately the president elected by 20m people only expresses regret," the student said. "Mr President, you are not an ordinary citizen to express regret but you should stand against illegal acts." A statement by Amir Kabir's student Islamic Association at the meeting said: "It is the duty of reformists and those elected by people to stand against mass arrests and not allow the rogue circle in the judiciary to cut the reforms body into pieces." Students in the audience admitted privately that they were divided. Many were afraid to get involved in politics, mindful of the arrests and deaths that followed student-led protests against the shutdown of a pro-reform newspaper in July 1999. Some said they believed that this time Mr Khatami, if he runs again, would only win half the student vote. Many student voters would stay at home.

Few expect a smooth election and allegations of ballot-rigging made by both sides during last year's parliamentary polls are likely to be repeated. Yet in spite of everything, few on the streets of Tehran want another revolution. Mr Khatami, a cleric and a product of the system, is recognised as the best guarantee of the regime's survival due to his general popularity among a nation of diverse ethnic groups. Some conservatives who fear the excesses of the hardliners are seeking ways to thwart political change while mollifying Iran's 63m people by limited social and economic reforms.

One scenario under discussion is retention of Mr Khatami as president but a quiet shift of executive powers to the Expediency Council, headed by Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president. The 30-member body mediates in disputes between parliament and the Guardian Council, a kind of upper house dominated by hardliners. It also has the powers to draw up general policies and was recently told by the supreme leader to draft guidelines for future economic programmes.

Thanks to a surge in world oil prices last year, financial reserves have reached new highs and for the first time in more than a decade Iran is no longer a net debtor. As a result, the struggle for power is about more than political office. Ahmad Shirzad, a pro-reform MP for Isfahan, argues that conservatives might try to counter any popular backlash against the sidelining of Mr Khatami by going on a spending spree with public funds. "This is no joke," he says. "Billions of dollars are involved."

There is clearly scope to use Iran's financial reserves in a way that benefits ordinary people more than at present. Spring in Tehran is also the time for statistics. Last week, the administration's Management and Planning Organisation disclosed that 40 per cent of Iranians are living in "absolute and relative poverty", while a conservative newspaper quoted a survey reporting that 7.7 per cent of the population over 15 is suffering from depression. More than two decades after the Islamic revolution, Iran's people are still in need of a government that will bring them prosperity and freedom.

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People Seemingly Indifferent Toward Presidential Elections

The Tehran Times
By: Zahra Abdi

April 25, 2001

TEHRAN Less than two months to go before the eighth presidential elections, political groups and factions are heating up for the race which is predicted to be hot.

Political groups are making serious plans intended to sway the result in their favor and it seems they are now neglecting their current environment. It is easy to arrive at the conclusion by a reading of local periodicals that they have transferred their concentration to electioneering activities.

Hardly a day goes without one reading an essay printed in a periodical about the presidential elections or an early attempt to campaign for or against a particular candidate.

It is worth noting that a lot of changes have occurred in the way presidential elections are conducted since the victory of the Islamic Revolution. In particular, calls for active participation of the people in elections in order to prove to the world that Iranians support the Islamic system and have solidarity are no longer that intense. Political competitions now focus on points and methods previously frowned upon.

Different points of view from interest groups are already in circulation. Their intention is obviously to sway the minds of undecided voters or perhaps get disinterested groups or voters to vote. Or, perhaps, they are focussing on defeating a particular rival and kicking him out of competition even before the fight. But what is highly visible at this stage is that rivalry is still largely among political groups, factions and parties in society while the man in the street still seems indifferent. The reason could be that politics in this country has turned into something unpredictable and anything could still happen in the near future. Be that as it may, it is a source of joy to know that the main determiners of the country's destiny and the inheritors of its benefits are the people themselves.

Since people in this country decide the fate of who governs them, TEHRAN TIMES conducted a random interview of citizens to get their opinion regarding certain issues affecting the presidential elections. What came rather as a surprise is that they showed indifference to the subject and had no serious thoughts about the presidential elections. Apart from the few who answered our questions, the rest simply passed by smiling or gave a meaningful look.

Are you going to take part in the presidential elections? Has the current President Seyed Mohammad Khatami performed well in office? What would be the characteristics of your president of choice and what do you expect him to do? These were the questions we asked ordinary citizens in the streets and here are their answers:

Maryam Sa'adati, holder of a bachelor's degree in English translation, gave us a positive answer to our first question. Currently unemployed, she said: "I believe it is the duty of every Iranian to take part in the presidential elections that will decide not only his or her own fate but also that of the country."

On President Khatami's performance during the past four years, she pointed to his idea of 'Dialogue Among Civilizations' and called it a great step toward developing ties with other countries.

Sa'adati, who expressed deep frustration with the fact that he has remained unemployed two years after graduation, said the unemployment problem which is particularly hitting the youth is one of the country's biggest problems. She said she would vote for a president that would give it priority.

Our second interviewee was a teacher who said that her criteria for voting is the platform being supported by a candidate and his ability to fulfill that platform. But, she said, things are quite different now in this country.

She believed Khatami's presidency has had positive and negative points. For instance, she said that Khatami has been successful in changing the image of the country abroad as a terrorist country and has raised the level of individual and social freedoms. But, she said, Khatami has failed in the area of the economy.

She added that the current government won on a slogan to remove unemployment and other problems but that the country is still faced with these problems.

The third person interviewed was Bahman Morad-Khani, a junior student in commercial management. He believed it was his duty to take part in the presidential elections and choose the president of his choice.

But he quickly added: "We chose President Khatami because of his slogans and promises, but we were quite innocent. We thought our desires would be fulfilled but unfortunately...," (He was interrupted by his friends.)

As to the traits of a good president, he said he should have the same ideals and aims which would fulfill that of the people's. He added that he and his friends would not pay attention to propaganda anymore, but would instead ponder on the programs of each candidate.

The *** TEHRAN TIMES *** has conducted an opinion poll on the Internet asking people if they thought President Khatami would be a candidate in the next presidential elections.

Out of a total of 327 people, some 137 (42%) held the view that he would definitely run for a second term, and 47 (14%) believed it depends on political circumstances, while the remaining 143 people (44%) said that he would not run.

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Iran cracks down

The Montreal Gazette
April 25, 2001

Being a political reformer in Iran is getting increasingly dangerous once again; in the runup to the presidential election to be held in June, Iran's hard-line rulers have recently been jailing dozens of peaceful activists, especially members of a major illegal opposition group, the Freedom Movement.

So last week's United Nations Human Rights Commission vote censuring Iran was well timed, in addition to being well deserved. By a disconcertingly narrow margin (21 in favour, 17 against and 15 abstentions), the commission condemned Iran for various human-rights infractions, including having stifled freedom of expression by imprisoning journalists and closing newspapers, and discriminating against some members of religious minorities, especially Baha'is. At the same time, the commission recognized that there also have been some improvements in Iran's behaviour.

The current crackdown appears to be part of a pre-election strategy by the country's powerful hard-line theocrats. The last few times Iranians went to the polls, they voted overwhelmingly for liberalization. In 1997, they elected as president Mohammad Khatami, a moderate by current Iranian political standards who since then has been trying to use his not-so-powerful post to counter the hand-line policies of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Mr. Khatami's efforts, in turn, have been endorsed by voters in subsequent municipal and legislative elections that have since handed landslide victories to his political allies.

Even so, the hard-liners have continued to control the levers of power: the judiciary and the military, as well as the electronic media. And they have used those powers to counter the growing democratic threat to their theocracy, jailing political opponents and shutting down more than 30 independent newspapers and journals in the past year. (Although Iran has elections, it remains a theocracy: real power rests in the hands of Ayatollah Khamenei and religious authorities who vet legislation and political candidates.)

Mr. Khatami, who has expressed dismay at the recent wave of arrests, has not yet declared whether he plans to run again in June. But whether he runs or not, the events of the past few years have made it clear that there is overwhelming popular support for liberalization and democratization, an encouraging omen for the future.

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Ex-military chief seeking to dissuade Khatami for re-election

Tehran, April 26, IRNA -- With presidential elections looming in June a former military commander has criticized President Mohammad Khatami's four-year record in office, stirring up his previous calls to dissuade the incumbent president from standing for a second term.

In an open letter faxed to IRNA Thursday, Mohsen Rezaei, a former Islamic Revolutionary Guards commander, said, "Certain groups linked to the (pro-Khatami) Khordad-2 Front have exploited on the recent mass arrest (of over 40 dissidents) and stoked up tension in the society ahead of the June presidential polls."

At least 42 Islamic nationalists were rounded up in Tehran and other cities early this month on charge of conspiracy against the Islamic establishment.

Reformists have denounced the arrests as part of a plan by Khatami's detractors to create political tension in the society and mar the June presidential elections for which President Khatami has yet to announce his intention for a second term.

"Several newspapers, self-proclaimed to support you, have initiated a smear campaign and are fanning the political tension in the society by publishing false news," the letter said.

Conservative-run courts have closed down 40 periodicals, mostly pro-reform, over the past 12 months on charges of disparaging Islam and the religious elements of the Islamic revolution.

Rezaei also took a sharp swipe at Khatami's administration for what he said was offering incorrect unemployment and economic growth rates.

He said that the unemployment rate has exceeded 15 percent which, he said, is put at 12 percent in the official reports.

In Mid-March, Rezaei said that President Khatami should not run for re-election in June in order to preserve his popularity.

"Khatami, who has brought Iran some major gains, would be well-advised to retire in order to preserve his good image and his name in the history of our country," he told IRNA.

He said the president "has to end his silence, or his indecision, and announce whether he will be a candidate or not."

The incumbent President Mohammad Khatami, who won in 1997 with almost 70 percent of the popular vote, has yet to announce whether he will stand for re-election, sparking widespread speculation he could decline the chance of a second term.

In a latest development, an overwhelming majority of more than 220 legislators have signed a letter to President Khatami urging him to seek re-election in the June 8 polls.

His opponents are charging that the pro-reform camp has kept Iranians in a state of suspension in order to gain more votes and that Khatami will announce his candidacy in the last minute.

Courts have shut down many major pro-reform daily newspaper over the past year, jailed leading journalists and Khatami allies, and pursued cases against several reformist MP's.

CRITICISM FOR NOT APPRECIATING MISSILE ATTACKS ON MKO

Rezaei also criticized Khatami for not well appreciating the Iranian revolutionary guards who fired over 50 missiles on the Iraq-based terrorist rebels of Mujahideen Khalq Organization.

"Simultaneous launch of over 50 missiles to the MKO's bases along the (eastern) borders is expressive of the military power of the Islamic Republic," he said, describing the act as great and unprecedented.

Last week, Iraq said that Iran had fired 56 Scud missiles at camps belonging to the MKO. The Iranian ambassador to the United Nations told the Security Council chairman that Tehran's missile strikes were in self-defense after the rebels launched attacks in Iran.

MKO's use neighboring Iraq as a springboard for attacks into Iran and have several bases equipped with tanks, heavy guns, and helicopter gunships close to the Iranian border.

The organization has carried out several rocket attacks and assassinations in Iran's big cities in recent months as part of a campaign to overthrow the Islamic government.

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Political group says election should be turned to referendum

BBC Monitoring Service
Apr 27, 2001

Text of report in English by Iranian news agency IRNA

Tehran, 26 April: Islamic Revolution's Mojahedin Organization (IRMO) which is a pro-Khatami political group here on Thursday [26 April] said: The next presidential election can be actually a referendum on reforms.

In a statement faxed to IRNA, the political group said the constitutional law has recognized referendum as a means of running the country on the basis of relying on public opinion.

The statement entitled " Why Referendum? " went on to say those who abide by the constitution should not be worried by the efforts to turn the presidential election into a referendum.

IRMO claimed that the resistance by the opponents of reforms against the will of people will ultimately turn the elections to a referendum.

The statement further said referendum , for segments of people, is a legal means to regain their suppressed demands and ideals.

"The next elections are not just an election, but a referendum over the nature of the Islamic Republic," declared the reformist IRMO.

"The people on 8 June should vote and with their votes should show which interpretation of the Islamic Republic they really want."

Khatami stunned opponents with a landslide victory in 1997 which propelled him from head of the national library to head of government.

"On 8 June the people should prove (Khatami's 1997 election) was not an accident, it was the will of the nation and reforms are irreversible," said the Islamic Revolution's Mojahedin Organization.

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Iran's Khatami keeps all guessing as polls loom

TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) Apr. 26 -- "Will he, or won't he?" That is the question on every Iranian's lips. With only 10 days to go before presidential nominations must be in, no one is sure whether popular President Mohammad Khatami will stand. If he does run for re-election on June 8, few doubt the mild-mannered cleric would win a resounding victory but, in Iran's fractured political arena, that may not be enough.

"The next elections are not just an election, but a referendum over the nature of the Islamic Republic," declared the reformist Mujahideen of the Islamic Revolution.

"The people on June 8 should vote and with their votes should show which interpretation of the Islamic Republic they really want."

At stake is whether it is possible to reconcile the Islamic and the republic in the Islamic Republic. Whether Iran's experiment in religious democracy which has inspired Islamist movements since the 1979 revolution can work at all.

On one side are those for whom the political mandate is ordained by God, on the other those who believe power arises from the backing of the people expressed in the ballot box.

Khatami, a mid-ranking cleric with a philosophical bent, believes in a middle way.

"There are people in the country who say that we need to suppress freedom in order to let religion survive, and there are others who say we need to suppress religion in order to let freedom survive," he said in a keynote speech last month.

"The Islamic Republic is a model under which religion and freedom can live together."

Khatami stunned opponents with a landslide victory in 1997 which propelled him from head of the national library to head of government. For two years unprecedented freedoms flourished, freedoms that were grabbed, especially by the youth.

Color appeared in women's headscarves as dress codes relaxed. Films began to address real issues. Books were less rigorously censored. Pop concerts were held.

And newspapers appeared which were not afraid to delve into official misdeeds and criticize state mismanagement. A group of state intelligence agents conducting killings of dissidents was uncovered and prosecutions got under way.

But still, all was not well with reform. For many conservatives, the new freedoms paraded by the young amounted to little more than mindless mimicking of the immoral West, and criticism of the system an attack on Islam.

Shi'ite Muslims, though the overwhelming majority in Iran, have always been a minority in the Islamic world. Unlike the majority Sunnis, where consensus rules on matters of religious dispute, expert Shi'ite clerics pass judgment on doctrine.

A sweeping victory by Khatami allies in last year's parliamentary polls spurred his opponents into action.

The Guardian Council, 12 men appointed by spiritual leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to ensure parliament's laws conform with Islamic law, began to show its own strength.

Legislation introduced by Khatami and passed by MPs, elected representatives of the people, was overturned by the council - they, through the leader, Khamenei, represented God.

The conservative-dominated judiciary, also appointed by the leader, has now banned some 40 pro-reform publications since Khamenei branded them "bases of the enemy" in April last year.

Khatami allies have been prosecuted, removed from office or jailed. Reformists says there is an attempt to discredit Khatami, whose personal popularity is all but unassailable, by blackening his fellow travellers.

Through all this Khatami has remained silent on the big question. Barely anyone is left, from any part of the political spectrum, who has not demanded he make his position clear.

In response, the president has pleaded for more power. "I am responsible for the constitution and must have the necessary resources to meet this responsibility," he told students in December.

"When I see the law is broken I should be able to stop it immediately and send it for investigation. But I don't have this prerogative. I should have it to do the job correctly."

A man of undoubted sincerity, Khatami may well decide to stand aside. But weighing on his conscience is the knowledge that failure to stand could bring political turmoil and the risk of a low turnout undermining the legitimacy of the Islamic Republic.

"As long as I am convinced that I am able to put a step forward, in spite of all problems and as long as the people wish it, I will be ready to serve," Khatami said in his speech to parliament last month.

Many see in Khatami's reticence a desire to bring home to voters the importance of the choice they have to make, to make sure that when he does enter the polls, he not only wins but wins with such a massive majority that opponents are forced to concede that his renewal of the republic is unstoppable.

"On June 8 the people should prove (Khatami's 1997 election) was not an accident, it was the will of the nation and reforms are irreversible," said the Mujahideen of the Islamic Revolution.

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Top conservative hits back at reformists over June election

Tehran, April 27, IRNA -- A leading right-winger has struck back at reformists supporting President Mohammad Khatami for a second term in office, saying they want an election with one candidate from their own camp.

"Such moves will change the national system to a system like that of some third world countries," Mohammad-Reza Bahonar, secretary-general of the right-wing Islamic Society of Engineers told a meeting of the party Friday.

He said that different parties of various affiliations should field candidates for June presidential polls to have a higher turnout.

"The reformists say that the result of elections is clear and that nobody can change it," Bahonar said, referring to a recent statement by a reformist party which said "Khatami will certainly win the elections." He also said that the reformist Khordad-2 Front, named after the day President Khatami was elected on a landslide, is to put up Mohsen Armin and Mohsen Mirdamadi, both reformist MP's for the June vote.

Incumbent President Mohammad Khatami who won in 1997 with almost 70 percent of the popular vote, has yet to announce whether he will stand for re-election, sparking widespread speculation he could decline the chance of a second term.

An overwhelming majority of more than 220 legislators have signed a letter to President Khatami urging him to seek re-election in the June 8 polls.

His opponents are charging that the pro-reform camp has kept Iranians in a state of suspense in order to gain more votes and that Khatami will announce his candidacy in the last minute.

The reformist Islamic Revolution's Mujahideen Organization said Thursday "The next elections will not be simply 'election', but a referendum over the essential character nature of the Islamic Republic." "The people on June 8 should vote and with their votes should show which interpretation of the Islamic Republic they really approve," it added.

Certain figures, meanwhile, have apparently tried to dissuade President Khatami from running for president for a second term.

A top conservative on Thursday criticized President Khatami's four-year record in office, stirring up his previous calls to dissuade the incumbent president from standing for a second term.

In an open letter to President Khatami Thursday a copy of which was faxed to IRNA on the same day, Mohsen Rezaei, former Islamic Revolutionary Guards commander, said, several newspapers, pretending to be Khatami's supporters, are waging a smear campaign against him and are fanning political tension in the society by publishing news that are in fact only defamation of character.

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Conservatives, Reformists Describe Stark Choices For Presidential Poll

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
By Charles Recknagel

With Iran's 8 June presidential poll just weeks away, the country's conservative and reformist camps are increasingly speaking of it as a referendum on the role of religion and democracy in the Islamic Republic. The debate has grown more heated as hard-liners continue arresting reformists, and moderate President Mohammad Khatami has yet to declare his candidacy for a second term. RFE/RL correspondent Charles Recknagel reports.

27 April 2001


Prague -- Iran's rival conservative and liberal camps are using stark terms to present the choices voters will face in the June presidential poll.

A top conservative official, in an open letter to Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, last week said the 8 June vote is about the country's religious identity as an Islamic Republic. Mohsen Rezaie, a former commander of the Revolutionary Guards, also warned Khatami -- who has yet to declare his candidacy -- that if he tries to distance himself "from the people and from Islam, we will distance ourselves from you."

Rezaie, a member of the powerful Expediency Council responsible for settling legislative disputes, also accused liberals of trying to turn the June poll into a referendum to force conservatives to accept political changes.

The hard-line official's remarks came shortly after a key party in the reformist coalition described the presidential poll as a choice between two different versions of Iran's Islamic system.

The Islamic Revolution Mujahedeen Organization described the choice as a "decision between two approaches...between democracy and violence." The party also charged conservatives with trying to block Iran from being a democracy.

The statements highlight what many analysts say is becoming an increasingly emotional atmosphere in the run-up to the election, being held amid a persistent hard-line crackdown on liberals.

On one side is the reformist camp, which argues that the government must respond to voters' demands for change. The reformists' position was boosted by Khatami's landslide victory in 1997 on promises of greater political and social freedoms and, again last year, by their sweep of parliamentary elections.

But the reformists, who dominate Iran's executive and legislative branches, are bitterly opposed by hard-liners who control the judicial branch. The hard-liners see the reformists as a threat to the Islamic Republic's system of Velayat-e Faqih, or supreme religious leadership. That system makes the president subordinate to a religiously appointed Supreme Leader, assuring that the country is guided by religious authorities rather than the electorate.

Khatami, as a cleric, does not challenge that status quo. But to safeguard it further, the hard-liners have used the judiciary to close down some 40 publications -- most of them reformist -- and detained more than 60 journalists and political activists.

Ervand Abrahamian, an expert on Iranian politics at the City University of New York, in the United States, says the hard-liners want to assure that neither Khatami nor any other moderate candidate wins by a landslide this year.

"By silencing the liberals they are trying to kill two birds with one stone. They are getting rid of a public debate against the hard-liners but also they are trying to show the public that the president has really no power. And this of course then undermines the president's position in terms of his authority. It has been a very consistent and concerted effort and they will continue to do this until Khatami withdraws or, if he runs, they hope he will not get the support he got in the last presidential election."

Abrahamian says that the hard-liners hope to weaken the elected institution of the presidency and thus ensure that the Islamic Republic's democratic system poses no threat to its religious leadership. But the analyst says that this strategy is likely to backfire in the long run.

"[From the hard-liners' perspective], in the short run it is a big victory. They got rid of their main headache. But for the long run, it would be very bad for the whole regime itself because what gives a great deal of legitimacy to the Islamic Republic is the republican aspect of the system. By republican I mean the fact that there is room for elections, participation, representation, and a president who is elected, especially (as in 1997) elected with 80 percent of the voters participating."

He continues:

"The [Islamic Republic's] legitimacy, I think, comes far more from this democratic, republican aspect than the whole idea of Velayat-e Faqih. The hard-liners obviously think that the Velayat-e Faqih is the core of the Islamic Republic but as far as the public is concerned, for the vast majority, it is the republican side that is the core of the Islamic Republic. So if they get rid of the public participation and make elections meaningless then they are actually completely undermining the legitimacy and the credibility of the Islamic Republic."

So far, Khatami has tried hard to keep the choices from being defined in just such terms as he himself waits until the last minute to declare whether he will run for re-election.

In a keynote speech last month, he said "there are people in the country who say that we need to suppress freedom in order to let religion survive, and there are others who say we need to suppress religion in order to let freedom survive." But, he said, "the Islamic Republic is a model under which religion and freedom can live together."

Khatami remains the favorite to win if he runs. Under Iranian law he must declare by the end of the first week of May. His brother, Mohammad-Reza Khatami, who heads the coalition's main component, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, recently said the president will announce his decision by 6 or 7 May.

But if Khatami does not run, the election will be wide open and contested by candidates far more likely to polarize the electorate. So far, three candidates from the conservative and one from the reformist camp have announced they will run.

(RFE/RL Persian Service correspondent Homayoun Majd contributed to this
report.)

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Reza'i enters Presidential race on toes, from back door - Analysts

TEHRAN 28 Apr. (IPS) The last letter written by former Commander of the Revolutionary Guards to the embattled President Mohammad Khatami has been commented by Iranian political analysts as a disguised way of announcing his candidacy to the next presidential elections due on 8 June.

With the crucial race looming in five weeks and Mr. Khatami keeping the nation waiting for his decision, Mr. Mohsen Reza i, now the Secretary of the Expediency Council, has repeated his criticism of the outgoing President's four-year record in office, telling him that if he decide to keep the office, he must change both course and programs.

Observers said mindful of the humiliating defeat both he and his boss, Mr. Hashemi-Rafsanjani, suffered at the February Majles elections in the one hand and the state of hesitation due to Mr. Khatami s, indecision, Mr. Reza i, pushed by the conservatives, instead of officially announcing his candidacy, is entering the presidential race "on the tows and from the back door", by publishing letters and giving speeches critical of Mr. Khatami.

Conservative opponents of Mr. Khatami accuses him to keep the nation in a state of suspension in order to gain more votes, as, they say, abandoned by many voters, particularly the young ones, Mr Khatami fears a big run down of popularity compared with four years ago, when he got more than 20 millions votes.

In an open letter reproduced by the official news agency IRNA, Mr. Reza i warns Mr. Khatami "the more clear cut, popular, (islamic) valued projects and programs you present, the closer we would move to you, but if you distance yourself from the people, presenting same old projects, we would take our distance from you".

In other part of the letter, he criticise Mr. Khatami s ministers and collaborators for presenting false and exaggerated statistics concerning their achievement, including inflation and unemployment rates and shed doubts on the conduct of foreign policy, especially concerning Iraq.

For instance, he strongly objects to the visit, last year, of Iranian Foreign Minister to Baghdad, saying the wrong timed trip made the Iraqis more arrogant and then criticise Khatami s government for having done nothing to get war compensations from Iraq.

But observers blame Mr. Khatami s predecessor, Ayatollah Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, now Mr. Reza is boss at the Expediency Council, for having failed to secure the claims, estimated at 1000 billions US Dollars by the Iranians and some 150 billions by independent experts.

Reza i also criticised Khatami for not well appreciating the recent attack by Iranian revolutionary guards who fired over 50 missiles on the Iraq-based and financed Mujahideen Khalq Organization (MKO).

"Simultaneous launch of over 50 missiles to the MKO's bases along the (eastern) borders is expressive of the military power of the Islamic Republic", he said, describing the act as "great and unprecedented".

Reza i criticised the reformist press, lawmakers and personalities for attacking the leader-led Judiciary over the arrest of islamist-nationalists and members of Iran Freedom Movement (IFM), some of them over 80, repeating charges that the detainees were plotting against the Islamic Republic.

Reformists have denounced the arrests as part of a plan by Khatami's detractors to create political tension in the society and mar the June presidential elections for which President Khatami has yet to announce his intention for a second term.

"Several newspapers, self-proclaimed to support you, have initiated a smear campaign and are fanning the political tension in the society by publishing false news," Reza i said in the letter, keeping silence on the "bundle closure" of some 40 publications, most of them independent and pro-reforms, and the jailing of a dozen of reformist editors and journalists.

In an earlier interview with IRNA carried Mid-March, Reza i had said that President Khatami should not run for re-election in June in order to preserve his popularity.

"Khatami, who has brought Iran some major gains, would be well-advised to retire in order to preserve his good image and his name in the history of our country", he told IRNA.

He said the president "has to end his silence, or his indecision, and announce whether he will be a candidate or not".

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Official says 42 million eligible voters in presidential election

BBC Monitoring Service
Apr 28, 2001

Text of report by Iranian radio on 28 April

The head of the Iranian Statistics Centre has announced that there are some 42 million eligible voters for the eighth presidential election [on 8 June].

Speaking on the sidelines of a regional training course on sampling and its applications, Mr Zali said that the country's latest unemployment figure published in Dey [13]79 [January 2001] was 14.2 per cent. He added: The increase in the unemployment figure was because the country's young population has grown three times faster than that of the whole population.

He said the growth rate for the country's young population was 3.38 per cent and the growth rate for the country's population was 1.4 per cent.

Source: Voice of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Tehran

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Reasons for Expected Low Voter Turnout on June 8

Iran News
Editorial

April 28, 2001

Four years ago in late April there was a lot of excitement in Iran due to the anticipation regarding the presidential elections of May 23, 1997. Newspapers were busy encouraging the voters to turn out in great numbers and help elect a reformist president.

The newspapers were so successful that 29 million people (90% of the eligible voters) went to the polls and cast their votes.

There is no such excitement in Iran today, and rumors of low voter turnout abound in political circles.

Lowering the number of votes has become a tactic of the Conservative opponents of President Khatami and his political reforms. Analysts are almost unanimous in their belief that the upcoming presidential elections will lack the previous one's excitement and fervor.

The reason, some analysts believe, is Khatami's failure, despite his overwhelming election victory, to match his pre-election slogans and rhetoric regarding the reform of political and administrative establishments with action in his first term in office.

These analysts say that people believe that if Khatami did not succeed in implementing his reform program while being backed by such a massive popular support, then neither he nor any other candidate can facilitate the realization of their aspirations. This attitude will cause a large drop in the number of the people who will actually go to the polling booths on June 8.

In Iran, second term presidential elections are usually lackluster compared to the first.

The Islamic Republic's first president, Abolhassan Banisadr had to leave the country following a parliamentary vote of no confidence. The Republic's second president, Mohammad Ali Rajaie, was martyred after less than two months in office. The next two Iranian presidents faced lower voter turnouts in their second terms. In the elections for his second term, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei suffered a 10% drop in the number of votes cast, while only 64% of eligible voters participated in Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's second term election, compared with 94.5% in his first term.

This history assures the people that their presidents usually hold office twice. This certainty naturally cools down the second term presidential election fever. This is the reason that, despite all the efforts of what remains of Iranian newspapers, the atmosphere is rather cool and indifferent regarding the upcoming June 8 elections.

The possible crises between now and June 8 notwithstanding, it would still be a great fete if 60%-70% of the 42 million eligible voters turn out on the day of the elections.

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Iran disqualifies 115 by-election hopefuls

Tehran, April 29, IRNA -- Parliamentary mid-term election watchdog has rejected qualification of 145 hopefuls, out of a total 356, on various charge of being in cahoots with the terrorists Iraq-based rebels, drug-trafficking and possession of alcoholic drinks, banned under Iran's Islamic penal code, a statement from the board said Sunday.

It said that some hopefuls were involved in graft which, it said, were endorsed by the executive board. The executive board had only disqualified 34 hopefuls.

"Official reports confirm that some of the hopefuls were linked to the hypocrites," an official term referring to the terrorist Iraq-based Mujahideen Khalq Organization which seeks to topple the Islamic government, the statement said.

"One of those initially endorsed is serving his jail term and has had relations with the pre-revolutionary shah regime (deposed in 1979)," it said, adding "another candidate had registered an arrest record on charge of keeping five tons of alcoholic drink."

Iran started to screen 356 candidates registered to vie for the parliamentary by-elections in mid-April. The election is scheduled for June 8, the same day as presidential poll.

A total of 356 people, including 25 women, had initially announced their candidacy for Iran's parliamentary by-elections. Seventeen seats are up for grabs, including one in Tehran where 125 people, including seven women, will be vying for the slot vacated by former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who stepped down after finishing 29th in voting for all 30 seats from the capital last year.

The by-election will fill 16 other seats in the 290-member legislature which have remained empty since the February 2000 election after the constitutional watchdog Guardian Council overturned some results citing irregularities.

Voters in East Azerbaijan province and the holy city of Qom will also fill two vacant seats in the powerful Experts Assembly, which designates or dismisses the country's supreme leader, a position currently held by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The Guardian Council had banned premature electoral campaign over the period between the date of the would-be candidates' nomination up to when their qualifications are approved.

The public relations office of the Guardian Council in a statement said the ban aimed to guarantee "justice in the course of the elections as well as the execution of the law", warning against its breach by "governmental and non-governmental press".

"Any form of campaign in favor of the candidates as well as use of the state means is against the law, pending legal action by the judicial authority against offenders," the statement read.

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Reformist faction blasts Guardian Council for disqualifying candidates

BBC Monitoring Service
Apr 29, 2001

Text of report in English by Iranian news agency IRNA

Tehran, 29 April: Iran's biggest pro-reform caucus has blasted the top constitutional watchdog, Guardian Council, for disqualifying 145 hopefuls, mostly reformist, for the legislative by-elections. In a statement faxed to IRNA Sunday [29 April], the Islamic Iran Participation Front said the council has "astonishingly and incredibly" disqualified almost all of the reformist candidates registered for the parliamentary by-elections, scheduled for 8 June, the same day as presidential race.

"This measure is a bitter admission of the conservatives for losing the people's confidence and incompetence of their hopefuls to vie in free elections," the statement said.

"We call on people to massively participate in the presidential race to respond to the monopolist strategies," it added. The Guardian Council has said 145 of the 356 hopefuls, are not qualified to run in the by-elections for 17 vacant slots in the 290-seat parliament, or Majlis.

The council has accused the disqualified candidates of various charges ranging from links to the rebel Iraq-based Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization, to graft and drug trafficking and possession of alcohol, which is banned under Iran's shari'a law. A total of 356, including 25 women, had initially announced their candidacy for Iran's parliamentary by-elections. Seventeen seats are up for grabs, including one in Tehran where 125, including seven women, will be vying for the slot vacated by former president Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, who stepped down after finishing 29th in voting for all 30 seats from the capital last year. The by-election will fill 16 other seats in the 290-member legislature which have remained empty since the February 2000 election.

Voters in East Azarbayjan Province and the holy city of Qom will also fill two vacant seats in the powerful Experts Assembly, which has authority to designate or dismiss the supreme leader, a position now held by Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamene'i.

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Khatami calls for calm and free election atmosphere

TEHRAN, April 29 (AFP) - President Mohammad Khatami on Sunday called on the interior ministry to assure a calm and free atmosphere during the June presidential polls, for which he has not yet announced his candidacy. "The elections must be organised with enthusiasm and in an atmosphere of calm and freedom," Khatami said during a meeting with municipal officials, cited by the state IRNA news agency.

The reformist president expressed hope that all candidates would have equal access in getting their messages across to the more than 40 million people eligible to cast a ballot in the June 8 polls.

But he called on candidates not to "launch attacks against or offend the personalities of their rivals, and the interior ministry must assure security during gatherings and notably electoral meetings across the country.

"Our people are intelligent, and we do not need to create false tension or exaggerate little problems," he said.

"If we want the Islamic republic's regime to remain in place, and for difficulties to be resolved and progress made, we must strengthen our ties with the people," he said.

He said presidential hopefuls should keep from using "exaggerated slogans and especially promises they cannot keep," adding: "If anyone says a miraculous plan exists to solve all problems, he is not behaving correctly."

Khatami, who swept into office in May 1997 with some 70 percent of the votes, has until May 6 to declare his candidacy along with all other presidential hopefuls.

Earlier this month an overwhelming majority of MPs in the reform-majority parliament signed an open letter calling on Khatami to stay the course and run for a second four-year term, the most allowed under the Iranian constitution.

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Khatami holds surprise meeting with Rezaei

TEHRAN, April 29 (AFP) - A top conservative met with President Mohammad Khatami hours after blasting him and his reformist allies in the run up to the June presidential elections, according to press reports Sunday. The Jaam-e Jam paper said Mohsen Rezaie, former commander of the elite Revolutionary Guards, held an "unexpected meeting" with the reformist president late Thursday, the same day he released an open letter attacking Khatami.

Rezaie accused the reformist camp of waging a campaign of "systematic destruction" against potential rivals for the June 8 polls and blasted Khatami's silence over whether he intends to stand for a second term.

Rezaie warned Khatami that if he tried to distance himself "from the people and from Islam, we will in turn distance ourselves from you."

Rezaie, who now sits on the powerful oversight Expediency Council headed by Khatami's predecessor as president, Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, also accused the the government of misrepresenting figures on unemployment and economic growth.

The paper gave no further details of the Thursday meeting. Khatami's agenda of liberalising reforms helped sweep him to office in 1997 with nearly 70 percent of the popular vote.

But reforms have since been stymied by conservatives who control key state institutions such as the courts and police.

Earlier this month an overwhelming majority of MPs in the reform-majority parliament signed an open letter calling on Khatami to stay on course and run for a second term, the most allowed under the Iranian constitution.

Like all other presidential hopefuls, Khatami has until May 6 to declare his candidacy.

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Restless Time for Iran's Moderates

The Los Angeles Times
Editorial

April 29, 2001

Iran has a presidential election scheduled June 8, but so far the country's most popular figure is not saying if he will be a candidate. President Mohammad Khatami, who four years ago won a crushing electoral victory, has until next week to announce his plans. There is no doubt he could be easily reelected. His problem, as his frustrating first term has made clear, is that he has been unable to govern. The president lacks virtually all executive power. Authority is concentrated in institutions dominated by conservative Islamic clerics who at every turn have blocked Khatami's promised liberalization of social and political policies. Supporters of reform, some personally close to the president, have been jailed and in some cases charged with capital crimes.

The hard-liners, led by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, accuse their opponents of being part of a pro-Western "fifth column" that seeks to undermine Islamic and revolutionary values. Most Iranians are weary of the invasive restrictions imposed in the name of those values and of the measures taken to suppress dissent and coerce dissenters. In the past year at least 36 newspapers and magazines have been shut down. Scores of journalists, politicians, intellectuals and students have been arrested. Some have been killed.

If Khatami runs and wins in a landslide he could claim at least a moral mandate for his positions. Unless the clerics modified their opposition to all reform, popular anger and frustration would increase.

The issue isn't just a lack of freedoms but the revolutionary regime's failure to significantly improve living standards for Iran's 63 million people, a majority of them born after the 1979 overthrow of the monarchy. By official figures, 40% of Iranians live in "absolute and relative poverty." Rising oil revenues have yet to make much difference in the lives of ordinary people.

Some of Iran's more enlightened clerics are said to see the need to relax harsh policies, a view that conservatives continue to oppose. With their control over the armed forces, the judiciary and the Revolutionary Guard, the hard-liners seem convinced they can hold on to power. The expression of popular will scheduled for June 8 might well shake that confidence.

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Shadow of killings hangs over Iranian poll

The Independent
By Chris de Bellaigue in Tehran

01 May 2001

Six weeks short of Iran's crucial presidential election one of the most prominent candidates is mired in a scandal over his son, who languishes in jail after being arrested in connection with the killing of an off-duty policeman.

A week has passed since the arrest of Mohsen Fallahian, the 19-year-old son of Ali Fallahian a former intelligence minister and a powerful figure in Iran's religious conservative establishment shortly after the late-night shooting of Khosrow Mirbeig in a side street in central Tehran.

The circumstances surrounding the shooting remain opaque but the outcome is clear: a fresh controversy has been added to those that tarnished Mr Fallahian's reputation during the eight years he spent as intelligence minister a period coinciding with the alleged murders of scores of dissidents at the hands of agents under his command.

Local newspapers reported that Mohsen Fallahian, who acts as his father's bodyguard, opened fire after being approached by Mr Mirbeig and another man. During a preliminary court hearing the former minister's son reportedly claimed that both men were armed, a claim later rejected by the judge in charge of the case.

At first Mr Fallahian and his associates denied there had been a death, but later admitted that Mr Mirbeig had been killed. In a statement the former minister's office described Mohsen Fallahian as "a hero, who single-handedly took on a dangerous gang" five strong and saw them off.

At the end of last week the Tehran police said that Mohsen Fallahian had fired in self- defence, after Mr Mirbeig tried to mug him. On Saturday three more men, believed to be Mr Mirbeig's associates, were arrested.

The former minister has suggested that he may have been Mr Mirbeig's eventual target, besides criticising what he described as "untrue" reports of the incident.

Last year Akbar Ganji, a journalist who had investigated the serial murder of political dissidents, used a court appearance to accuse Mr Fallahian publicly of ordering many of them. Mr Ganji is now serving a 10-year jail sentence on charges to do with his appearance in a controversial conference abroad. Mr Fallahian was not questioned about Mr Ganji's allegations.

Mundane mugging or the product of a sinister grudge? Last week's killing has undermined Mr Fallahian's attempt to garner electoral support from religious conservatives opposed to Mohammad Khatami, Iran's reform-minded President. Hamid-Reza Taraghi, a prominent conservative, told The Independent that this "weak point" would count against Mr Fallahian when conservatives came to unite around a candidate.

Mr Khatami has refused to confirm that he will stand for a second term. He is known to be depressed by a persistent onslaught by conservative judges, who have jailed dozens of reformists and opposition activists. Most analysts expect Mr Khatami to put his name forward after candidate registration starts tomorrow. If so, then he is likely to win by a handsome majority which clearly explains some conservatives' reluctance to stand against him.

With Mr Fallahian's presidential bid in trouble, attention among the President's opponents is likely to focus on a second likely candidate, Mohsen Rezai, the former head of the Revolutionary Guard. But Mr Taraghi hints that a similar "weak point" may undo Mr Rezai rather than embrace his own hardline revolutionary ideals. Mr Rezai's son defected three years ago to America, where he broadcast in opposition to Iran's Islamic regime.

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Khatami's closest allies still awaiting yes or no on re-election bid

TEHRAN, May 1 (AFP) - Reformists are still waiting for President Mohammad Khatami to say yes or no to a re-election bid, his allies said Tuesday, just a day before candidates begin filing their election papers.

His brother Mohammad-Reza Khatami, head of the largest pro-reform party, said reformists would hold a key strategy meeting on Saturday ahead of Sunday's deadline for hopefuls to formally declare their candidacies.

"We hope that Mr Khatami will respond with a concrete act," his brother said, cited by the official IRNA news agency.

He said that Saturday's meeting would mark a "new phase" in the pre-vote planning of the Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF) but indicated even the president's closest allies were unsure if he would stand in the June 8 poll.

But Mohammad-Reza, an MP from Tehran, took a swipe at the reform camp's conservative rivals, who have stymied Khatami's agenda of liberalising social and political reforms through their control of the courts and police. "Some people are ready to do anything, even to work against the national interest, to unleash anarchy and paint a black picture of the country, which benefits neither the people nor the regime," he said.

He said the president "had serious doubts about his candidacy but no doubts about his ideas and his thinking," adding: "He knows that his programme is the best way to lead this country."

He added that his brother "will surely consider if his decision will benefit the people and the nation or not." Candidates can begin filing their papers to run on Wednesday and must have filed by Sunday.

Khatami's silence has fuelled widespread speculation about his political plans, and he has gone public in recent months with his frustrations over his limited powers in office.

Stiff opposition from conservatives who control key state institutions such as the courts and police has stymied Khatami's agenda of liberalising social and political reforms.

More than 30 mostly pro-reform newspapers have been closed down since last year, while opposition leaders, reformists, journalists and political allies of the president have been jailed.

The reformist cleric swept to office in 1997 with nearly 70 percent of the popular vote, largely on the back of overwhelming support from women and young people.

Under the Iranian constitution, he can have no more than a second four-year term in office.

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posted May 03, 2001 10:32     Click Here to See the Profile for Vatandoost   Click Here to Email Vatandoost     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Khatami to declare candidacy Wednesday morning -- official

TEHRAN, May 2 (AFP) - President Mohammad Khatami is expected at the interior ministry Wednesday morning to declare his candidacy for the June presidential election, official sources said.

"Khatami will come this morning to file his candidacy," a ministry official who asked not to be named told AFP.

Sources close to the reformist president, cited in the conservative Jomhuri Eslami newspaper Wednesday, said Khatami had definitively decided to run after a meeting Sunday with Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Khatami has kept Iran on tenterhooks with his silence over whether he intends to seek a second four-year term in office when voters go to the polls on June 8.

Khatami's silence has fuelled widespread speculation about his political plans, and he has gone public in recent months with his frustrations over his limited powers in office.

Stiff opposition from conservatives who control key state institutions such as the courts and police has stymied Khatami's agenda of liberalising social and political reforms.

More than 30 mostly pro-reform newspapers have been closed down since last year, while opposition leaders, reformists, journalists and political allies of the president have been jailed.

The reformist cleric swept to office in 1997 with nearly 70 percent of the popular vote, largely on the back of overwhelming support from women and young people.

Earlier Wednesday, Farah Khosravi filed her papers at the ministry, becoming the first woman to stand for president in Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

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