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IN THE NEWS - Iran Looks Back at Revolution and Ahead to Elections - 2004-02-14

Broadcast: February 14, 2004

This is Steve Ember with In the News, in VOA Special English.

Iranians this week observed the twenty-fifth anniversary of their Islamic Revolution. Many thousands of people gathered Wednesday in Azadi Square in Tehran.

President Mohammed Khatami praised the nineteen-seventy-nine revolution. However, he warned Islamic conservatives not to dismiss the wishes of the people, especially younger Iranians. He said doing so could turn people against the values of the Islamic republic and even Islam.

In a speech broadcast nationally, Mister Khatami told the crowds that he will continue to seek political reforms. He said elections for parliament will be held next Friday as planned. President Khatami says the elections will be unfair but his party will compete.

Last month, the Guardian Council in Iran barred more than three-thousand pro-reform candidates from competing in the elections. The move created a political crisis. Many reformist members of parliament resigned. The Guardian Council later agreed to accept about one-thousand reformist candidates. But the reformers said that was not enough.

Candidates for seats in the Iranian parliament officially began to campaign on Thursday. But many reformers say they will boycott the elections next week. Some Iranians say they fear a boycott would return control of parliament to conservatives.

President Khatami is Iran’s leading reformist. He was elected and re-elected by a seventy-percent majority. But his government has not been able to carry out the reforms that it has promised.

Popular support for reforms has been growing in recent years. Conservative Islamic leaders, however, still have most of the control.

The Islamic Revolution ousted Shah Mohammed Reza Pahlavi in nineteen-seventy-nine. It brought an Islamic government to power led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. He had been in exile in Iraq.

Reformists gained control of the Iranian parliament in the elections in two-thousand. But the conservative Islamic leaders have been accused of using their power to block attempts to reform the political system and to ease social laws.

The Islamic leaders in Iran have more power than elected officials. The twelve members of the Guardian Council, for example, are appointed by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader of Iran. They have the power to block legislation passed by parliament if they believe it does not support Islamic values. The council also has the power to block people from seeking high public office.

In his speech Wednesday, President Khatami criticized those who he said "oppose freedom and democracy in the name of religion." He urged Iranians to avoid the path either of the West or of extremism. He said he will continue along what he calls a "third way," even if he faces strong resistance.

In the News, in VOA Special English, was written by Cynthia Kirk. This is Steve Ember.