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Reformers to Khatami: Delay vote

From CNN Correspondent Kasra Naji

Khatami is being urged to postpone the February 20 election.

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TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Reformist members of Iran's parliament have urged President Mohammed Khatami to postpone this month's parliamentary elections, saying the disqualification of thousands of candidates by Iran's clerical rulers makes a fair vote unlikely.

Lawmakers have staged a sit-in at Tehran's parliament building for the past 24 days to protest the disqualification of reformist candidates by the Guardian Council, a panel dominated by the Islamic republic's conservative clergy.

Reformist leaders met Tuesday with Khatami, the country's pro-reform president, and urged him to postpone the balloting, now set for February 20.

"With every passing day, there is less hope to hold free, fair and legal elections," the lawmakers said in a statement after the meeting.

The Guardian Council's decision sparked protests among lawmakers, who argue that even if the disqualified candidates were reinstated immediately, they would not have enough time to campaign.

Members of parliament also asked Khatami not to bow to pressure to hold elections in these circumstances.

Tuesday's meeting came amid reports that Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has absolute powers, has called on the government to hold elections as scheduled.

The reformist Islamic Iran Participation Front, led by Khatami's brother, Mohammad Reza Khatami, announced Monday it would withdraw from the elections.

Many members of that party were among 125 members of parliament who submitted their resignations Sunday to protest the disqualifications.

The political crisis, Iran's worst in many years, is set to deepen Wednesday when Tehran University students plan to hold a rally in support of the protesting parliamentarians.

There are reports that Iran's Interior Ministry, which issues permits for public rallies, has refused to allow the student protest to proceed.

On Tuesday, protesting parliamentarians called on the students to voice their protest only through legal channels.

Khatami's Cabinet was scheduled to meet again Wednesday.

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