Iran's conservatives prepare for showdown

16 December 2002

Conservatives in Iran are preparing for a confrontation with reformists over President Khatami's controversial legislation to reduce their influence, according to sources in the conservative establishment quoted in London's Financial Times. Although a majority in the majlis (parliament) support the legislation, to remove the Guardian Council's power to veto parliamentary candidates, hardliners can veto both the law and the president's last resort, a national referendum, and reportedly plan to do so. Khatami would either then resign, as he has threatened, or appear powerless. Despite the student protests that erupted over the death sentence handed down to liberal academic Hashem Aghajari in November, conservatives are said to be confident that there would be little unrest in the event of Khatami's departure, given his declining popularity ratings. Mohammed-Reza Khatami, the president's brother and leader of the largest pro-reform party in the majlis, on 13 December made an equally bleak assessment of the situation, telling a gathering of the Participation Front that hardliners would positively welcome unrest as a pretext to declare a state of emergency. 'Over the past five months, the extremists have taken the country closer to the culmination of the crisis,' he said. However, the party would use all legal means to ensure the legislation was passed, including the calling of a referendum.

In Brussels, the EU is to begin official talks with Iran on 16 December over its human rights record, as a prelude to a possible trade and co-operation agreement with the republic.

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