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Monday, February 02, 2004

One Third of Iranian Parliament Quits in Protest

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AFP/Behrouz Mehri
The New York Times: TEHRAN, Feb. 1 — More than one-third of Iran's Parliament resigned Sunday to protest a sweeping ban on candidates running in the parliamentary election later this month. The defiant move threatened to plunge Iran's political system into chaos.

One by one, angry lawmakers who have held a three-week sit-in at the huge Parliament building, marched up to the podium and handed their resignations to the speaker. In an emotional statement read aloud during the session of Parliament on Sunday 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, who were overthrown by American-led forces 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.

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

Mohammad Reza Khatami, the leader of the main reformist party and the brother of Iran's reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, 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 in Iran.

The student news agency ISNA reported that a pro-democracy Iranian student group said Sunday that it had sought permission to hold public demonstrations on Wednesday to protest the ban, a move that could provoke a clash with riot police officers and vigilante groups.

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 popular Islamic revolution that brought an end to the 2,500-year monarchy and ushered in an Islamic Republic...