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Reformists to boycott Iran vote


TEHRAN, Iran - Iran's main reformist party will boycott the country's parliamentary elections this month, Mohammad Reza Khatami,the head of the party, said yesterday.

The statement by Khatami to reporters, which was carried by the Islamic Republic News Agency, was the latest development in what appears to be a deepening political crisis in Iran after more than a third of the members of Parliament resigned Sunday over a sweeping exclusion of candidates by religious conservatives.

"We will inform the nation about the facts that prove the illegal nature of the Feb. 20 elections," Khatami said in the statement. "All the same, we will not ask the people to boycott the elections, since making up the decision in that regard is up to the people themselves."

Reuters quoted him as saying that "in the current circumstances we cannot participate."

Khatami is the secretary general of the Islamic Iran Participation Front and the brother of Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami.

"All I can tell you in this regard is that the absence of the political parties and groups at the elections will definitely have a negative effect on the elections," Khatami, of the reformist party, said.

There has been continual tension in Iran between reformers - the president and much of Parliament - who are pressing for greater religious and cultural freedom, and the religious conservatives, who control the judiciary and security services.

On Sunday, one by one, angry lawmakers who have held a three-week sit-in at the huge Parliament building handed their resignations to the speaker. In an emotional statement read aloud during the parliamentary session and broadcast live across the nation on Iranian radio, the members who resigned accused powerful conservatives of seeking to impose a religious dictatorship like that of the Taliban in Afghanistan.

"We cannot continue to be present in a parliament that is not capable of defending the rights of the people and that is unable to prevent elections in which the people cannot choose their representatives," the statement said.

Khatami, the party leader, was among those who resigned. He warned of a conservative coup supported by the military.

The resignations were a move typical of the brinkmanship that marks Iranian politics, to try to get the hard-liners to back down three weeks before a crucial election that will determine the future of the reform movement.

The student news agency ISNA reported that a pro-democracy Iranian student group said on Sunday that it had sought permission to hold public demonstrations tomorrow to protest the ban.

The mass resignation coincided with what was supposed to be a day of national celebration, the 25th anniversary of the return to Iran of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini from exile in France. The cleric led a Islamic revolution that brought an end to the 2,500-year monarchy and ushered in an Islamic Republic.

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