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Iran celebrates Islamic revolution

An Iranian woman passes a photo of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Khomeini.
An Iranian woman passes a photo of Iran's late leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

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Mohammad Khatami

TEHRAN, Iran (CNN) -- Tens of thousands of Iranians have been holding marches and rallies to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Islamic revolution.

Wednesday's celebrations came amid a tense political battle between hardliners and supporters of reformist President Mohammad Khatami. A third of candidates in next week's parliamentary elections -- mostly Khatami supporters -- have been officially barred.

It was 25 years ago that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini returned to Tehran in triumph after the overthrow of the shah of Iran. Three million people turned out in 1979 to greet the spiritual leader.

Huge crowds again converged on Tehran's massive Azadi (Freedom) Square Wednesday. They arrived from seven points, where they had been taken in 4,000 buses requisitioned by authorities, state television reported.

CNN correspondent Kasra Naji said the crowd was mostly in a carnival-like mood but there was a strong anti-US emphasis.

Iranian television had urged people to come out in big numbers to celebrate the anniversary, Naji said. The country's official media had pointed out U.S. forces surrounded Iran -- in Iraq and Afghanistan -- so big crowds were needed to demonstrate the Islamic system has the support of many people.

Naji said the anniversary had been overshadowed though by the bitter dispute between reformists and Islamic hardliners and the political tension was underlined by a speech Khatami made to crowds of mostly hardliners.

He warned his hardline rivals they were turning young Iranians against religion and that the Islamic state founded by Khomeini would only survive by reforming.

"Confronting people's wishes and ignoring people's demands in the name of religion ... will only create disappointment among the young generation in the Islamic Republic and, God forbid, their religion," Reuters quoted Khatami as saying.

Khatami vowed to continue pressing for reform during the rest of his second term, which expires next year.

"Whether I can fulfill my promises or not, whether there is strong resistance or not, I know no other way than this, and I will not choose any other path," he said.

The rise of Khatami in 1997 was seen as a "revolution within a revolution" which might deliver a more forward-looking Iran in the eyes of the rest of the world.

Khatami: "Ignoring people's demands in the name of religion ... will only create disappointment."

But reformists have complained of being frustrated in their attempts to modernize the country in the face of opposition from hardline clerics, all of them supporters of the original vision of Khomeini in 1979. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei became supreme leader following Khomeini's death in 1989.

On Tuesday final candidate figures revealed that the Guardian Council, the unelected watchdog dominated by religious hardliners, had barred almost one-third of aspiring candidates from standing in this month's parliamentary polls.

The large number of banned candidates plunged Iran into its worst political crisis in years and prompted outrage among Khatami's reformist allies who say the February 20 vote was rigged to oust them from politics.

The official IRNA news agency said the Guardian Council -- a 12-strong body of hardline clerics and Islamic jurists with sweeping powers -- approved 5,627 candidates from a total of 8,144 hopefuls to take part in the election.

Most of those barred were reformist candidates, including dozens of legislators serving in the current parliament.

Reformists won a comfortable majority in the 2000 parliamentary elections but say they will now be unable to compete for about half of parliament's 290 seats.

The Guardian Council has said those disqualified were unfit to hold office. Many of those barred were accused of lacking loyalty to Islam and the constitution.

More than 120 reformist legislators have resigned in protest, and Iran's largest reform party, led by Khatami's younger brother, has said it will not take part in what it has dubbed a "parliamentary coup."

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