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IRNA: Iran's cabinet may dissolve

Reformist lawmakers pray during their sit-in protest inside parliament.
Reformist lawmakers pray during their sit-in protest inside parliament.

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Mohammad Khatami

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Amid a protest over the disqualification of moderate candidates from upcoming elections, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's cabinet is prepared to dissolve if it cannot guarantee a fair election process, state-run media report.

"President Khatami's cabinet has been feeling shocked during the past 48 hours, and the country's governor generals have announced they cannot continue with performing their duties under the current conditions," Iranian Vice President Mohammad Sattarifar said in the IRNA report.

"Our political system is based on religious democracy, and so if the government becomes impotent in securing the legitimate freedoms of the nation, it loses its legitimacy, and then whether it dissolves itself or not, it is automatically dissolved," said Sattarifar, Iran's vice president for management and planning.

Over the weekend, the hard-line Guardian Council banned hundreds of moderate candidates from running in the February 20 elections, including about 80 sitting members of parliament -- all allied with Khatami, a moderate reformist.

In protest, dozens of Iranian legislators held a third day of protests in the halls of parliament Tuesday, walking out of a session and holding a sit-in to air their objections.

Sources said the conservative Guardian Council reversed itself Tuesday and approved the applications of about half of the sitting legislators who had been disqualified.

But the legislators said their protest would continue until all have been approved.

The U.S. State Department on Monday criticized the Iranian Guardian Council's ban of reformist candidates and called on the government to reverse the decision.

"We, as a matter of course, support free and fair elections in Iran," said State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli. "And we are therefore opposed to interference in the electoral process."

Reformers have made steady inroads in the Iranian electoral process since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, pledging to relax the hard-line ayatollahs' iron grip on Iranian society.

The head of parliament's national security and foreign policy commission, Mohsen Mirdamadi -- who was rejected by the council -- described the rejections "a civilian coup d'etat," IRNA said Monday.

Ereli said "decisions about who should govern a country are best made by the citizens of that nation through an open and transparent process."

"The options of the people in that regard shouldn't be limited by other institutions so as to prejudge the election or the outcome of an election," Ereli said.

Although the Guardian Council is selected by Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, President Khatami said he believes the disqualifications contradict the ayatollah's view.

Pledging to follow "legal channels to deal with this issue," Khatami added: "We must always be worried about the public dissatisfaction and, God willing, the Guardian Council will make amends."

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