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Election candidate vetting body denies partiality

TEHRAN, Iran, January 6, 2000 (AFP) - Iran's Council of Guardians, which vets election candidates, condemned Thursday an attack on it by reformist politicians who fear it will use its powers to bar moderates from the February polls.

"The Council of Guardians will not yield in the face of orchestrated political campaigns," spokesman Ayatollah Reza Ostadi said on Radio Tehran. "Its sole concern is the strict application of the law," he added.

Ostadi was responding to a letter from 32 leading reformist politicians to President Mohammad Khatami, warning against the arbitrary rejection of candidates by the Guardians.

In a letter to Khatami, himself a reformist, they accused the Guardians of again planning to reject pro-reform candidates wholesale as in previous elections.

The letter called on Khatami to ensure the February 18 polls are "healthy and transparent," the government daily Iran reported.

"The Council of Guardians respects the law and Islam 100 percent and does not go along with such orchestrated campaigns," Ostadi said. He said the Council, which decides whether candidates are fully committed to Islam, would approve or reject nominees in accordance with the provisions of the electoral law.

He accused the reformist politicians of trying to stoke up tension ahead of the February 18 elections and singled out the interior ministry, "where some officials recently said they had problems with the Council of Guardians." "Such statements only worsen the political climate in the country," Ozadi said.

Under recent regulations adopted by the 12-member council, the "real commitment" of a candidate to Islam must be confirmed by trustworthy persons in the constituency.

The Guardians can, for example, ask the candidate's local mosque if he is a good Muslim and attends prayers.

The Council of Guardians comprises six clerics appointed by Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and six legal experts named by parliament, which is dominated by the conservatives.

As well as ruling on election candidates' "commitment to the principles of the Islamic revolution", it also decides whether legislation conforms to the constitution.

The Guardians have the last word on the candidates, following a preliminary vetting by the Interior Ministry, which has rejected 401 of the total 6,860 who registered.

The Council of Guardians is due to finish its scrutiny this Friday, and the final list of candidates deemed eligible is to be published before February 9.

For the first time in these elections the Council of Guardians will have to justify its decision in writing to a rejected candidate if required.