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Khatami appeal to Iranians to vote

Khatami: Low turnout will give control of Iran to minority

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TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- President Mohammad Khatami has appealed to Iranians to vote in this week's parliamentary election to prevent a minority of hard-liners seizing control of the country's future due to public apathy.

In a written address to the nation, Khatami said the disqualification of some 2,500 mainly reformist candidates by a hard-line clerical council had been unjust but should not deter voters.

"Even though at one stage there was some unfairness against parliamentarians and other qualified candidates, if people don't turn out it will open the way for a minority to control the fate of the country," the president said in a statement published by the official IRNA news agency.

The unelected Guardian Council, a 12-member panel dominated by Islamic hard-liners, barred nearly one in three contenders from entering Friday's poll, including some 80 sitting lawmakers, among them Khatami's younger brother, Mohammad Reza.

That prompted the biggest reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, to boycott the vote.

But the president said people should not turn their backs on democracy out of disillusionment, but should use their ballots, if not to elect their favorite candidates, then at least to bar the way to those they most disliked.

"Surely there are many people who feel that in many constituencies, they don't have their favorite candidates, but they can choose the ones who have ideas which are closest to theirs," he said.

Many reformists say the mass disqualification was a blatant power grab by conservatives who lost control of parliament in 2000, when reformers won about 200 of the 290 seats.

Political scientists forecast a low turnout, especially in the big cities which were the reformers' bastions.

In a veiled reference to fears of fraud to inflate the turnout, Khatami urged election officials to "be very vigilant and careful to ensure a healthy election and safeguard people's votes."

Copyright 2004 Reuters. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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