- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 1, 2004

TEHRAN — More than one-third of Iran’s lawmakers resigned in protest yesterday over disputed elections, and the parliamentary speaker accused ruling clerics of trampling on the rights of his countrymen.

Speaker Mahdi Karroubi appealed to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, to help resolve the furor caused by the disqualification of thousands of reformist candidates from the Feb. 20 vote.

Some 124 lawmakers in the 290-seat Majlis, or parliament, resigned yesterday in a dramatic gesture intended to force the clerical hierarchy to reinstate the disqualified candidates.

The mass resignation “will determine Iran’s direction: rule of absolute dictatorship or democracy,” reformist lawmaker Mohammad Kianoush-Rad said in an interview.

Mr. Karroubi said he and reformist President Mohammed Khatami had started new efforts to resolve the crisis, holding discussions with Ayatollah Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters.

But Ayatollah Khamenei had left the capital, Tehran, for an undisclosed location, making it difficult to reach him, parliamentary officials said.

Mr. Karroubi, the parliamentary speaker, made a rare verbal attack on the Guardian Council, the unelected body of hard-line clerics who disqualified more than 2,400 reformist candidates from the legislative elections.

“Are you loyal to Islam if you pray daily, but then trample on the rights of the people?” asked Mr. Karroubi, himself a cleric.

He accused the Guardian Council, whose 12 members are appointed by Ayatollah Khamenei, of “disrespecting democratic values and having no faith in a popular vote.”

The furor began in early January when the Guardian Council disqualified more than 3,600 of the 8,200 people who filed papers to run for office. After protests and an opinion from Ayatollah Khamenei, the council on Friday restored 1,160 low-profile candidates to the list.

Reformists say the council disqualified reformist candidates to fix the election in favor of hard-liners. Hard-liners lost control of the parliament in elections four years ago, and repeatedly have thwarted Mr. Khatami’s efforts toward greater democracy and a relaxation of the Islamic social code.

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