Iran General NewsIran celebrates revolution, and muzzles reformers

Iran celebrates revolution, and muzzles reformers

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New York Times: Iran celebrated the 29th anniversary of the victory of its Islamic revolution on Monday as the government appeared to be taking steps to bury the chances of reformers in Parliamentary elections next month, putting on sharp display a split between veterans of the revolution’s early days and the nation’s current leaders. The New York Times

By NAZILA FATHI
Published: February 12, 2008

TEHRAN — Iran celebrated the 29th anniversary of the victory of its Islamic revolution on Monday as the government appeared to be taking steps to bury the chances of reformers in Parliamentary elections next month, putting on sharp display a split between veterans of the revolution’s early days and the nation’s current leaders.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continued to defy the West and vowed before a rally of tens of thousands of marchers that Iran would not back down from its nuclear program in the face of international pressure and announced that it would launch two more research rockets into space before launching a satellite this summer.

Meanwhile, radical supporters of Mr. Ahmadinejad and the watchdog Guardian Council have rejected some 2,400 reform-minded candidates for Parliamentary elections on March 14, including many politicians who were close to the founder of the revolution, Ayatollah Khomeini, in 1979.

A major reformist party warned Monday that in barring political candidates the revolution was drifting away from its original democratic principles.

“We are celebrating the 29th anniversary of the revolution as society is preparing for the eighth parliamentary elections and we have witnessed one of the ugliest events in the history of our revolution,” said the statement by the Mujahedin of the Islamic Revolution Organization said in a statement was carried on reformist Web sites.

“According to the Constitution, the government should be based on people’s real votes and its affairs run based on free elections,” the statement said, adding that people’s participation in the rally was not a sign of their support for the country’s policies.

Among the rejected candidates was a grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini, Ali Eshraghi, and a senior cleric, Ayatollah Hossein Moussavi Tabrizi, who served as general public prosecutor in the early days of the revolution.

Reformist politicians said last week that they could compete only for 20 seats of the 290 seat assembly. The former reformist president, Mohammad Khatami, called the disqualifications “disastrous,” and one of the reformers’ leading candidates, Mohammadreza Aref, pulled out of the race in protest.

The party close to Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a close ally of Ayatollah Khomeini, and twice president until 1997, refrained from introducing candidates.

Some drew parallels to the rejection of 2,000 candidates in 2004, which led to the election of a Parliament dominated by conservatives.

“This election is important because it confirms speculation that the process that began in 2004 was not an isolated event and has become the norm,” said Iradj Jamshidi, an Iranian reporter.

There are fears that current officials have strong ties to the country’s hardline Revolutionary Guards and many are former members. The election is shaping up as a competition between conservative supporters of President Ahmadinejad and conservative opponents who criticize his economic policies.

“Reformists do not want to pull out of the race completely because it will look as though they are turning their back to the regime,” said Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst in Tehran. “But the truth is that they have become marginalized.”

Official campaigning will not begin until a week before the election and the Guardian Council will announce its final decisions on the candidates on March 3.

One of the leading conservative candidates is the former nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, who resigned in protest in October over his differences with Mr. Ahmadinejad.

The state-run television broadcast video of the rally in Tehran and others around the country in which tens of thousands of people appeared to be a festive mood.

“I want to ask you,” Mr. Ahmadinejad was shown saying during his speech at one of Tehran’s largest squares. “Are you willing to retreat one iota from your right to nuclear energy? What’s your final decision?”

“Nuclear energy is our irrefutable right,” the crowd chanted.

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