Monday, December 24, 2007

Iranian Ex-President Attacks Hardliners

By ALI AKBAR DAREINI – December 22, 2007

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — A popular former president has resumed his attacks
against hardline Iranian clerics threatening to disqualify reformists
from upcoming elections.

In comments published Saturday, Mohammad Khatami, the president until
2005, was quoted as telling residents in the northwestern town of
Tabriz that arbitrarily banning candidates was against Iran's
constitution and Islam.

The remarks were the latest in a wave of criticism of the hardline
bloc, which includes Khatami's successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"No one and no authority has the right to deprive an individual, who
... is loyal to the constitution and has not committed any crimes
proved in court, of the right to elect or be elected," Khatami was
quoted by several pro-reform newspapers as saying Thursday. "Such
deprivation, under any pretext, is against the spirit of the
constitution and Islam."

Khatami, who voiced similar criticism earlier this month, was
referring to threats made by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the powerful
head of the Guardian Council, Iran's constitutional watchdog.

Jannati, a key ally of Ahmadinejad and Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah
Ali Khamenei, said in early December that any candidate determined by
the Guardian Council to be disloyal to the principles of Iran's 1979
Islamic revolution would be barred from parliamentary elections in

The Guardian Council's 12 members include six clerics hand-picked by
Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters and is commander in
chief of the armed forces. Hardliners consider him to be answerable
only to God.

In 2004, the council prohibited thousands of reformists from running
in the elections, resulting in the hard-liners' takeover of the

Political analyst Leila Chamankhah said Khatami's repeated attacks
against Iran's hardliners and his increasing public appearances
signaled a vigorous re-entry into politics ahead of parliamentary
elections in March.

"This is a new political comeback for Khatami after his departure from
the presidency," she said. "He feels he has a responsibility to come
to the support of reformers who fight for greater democracy and
personal freedoms in Iran."

Khatami largely disappeared from the public spotlight after he stepped
down as president. He has said he won't run in the March elections but
has begun publicly supporting reformists who hope to retake control of
the legislature from hardliners.

The former president won a landslide victory in 1997 on the promise of
promoting political and social freedom. He was re-elected in 2001, and
his stint in office saw a significant expansion of social freedoms.

Reformists are trying to form a grand coalition with independent
groups in the hope of winning the upcoming elections. However,
disqualification of prominent reformists could dash their hopes of
retaking control of the parliament.

Calling hardliners like those on the Guardian Council "fossilized,"
Khatami said they were a major obstacle to Iran's progress.

"We have to be careful that our Islam is not confiscated by the
fossilized because that is a dangerous Islam," Khatami was quoted as
saying. "The fossilized are those who pretend to be sanctimonious,
oppose progress, logic and people's sovereignty over their fate."

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