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Interior ministry says 758 candidates barred from key polls

TEHRAN, Iran, January 15, 2000 (AFP) - A conservative-controlled vetting body has barred 758 candidates, including nine sitting MPs, from standing in key parliamentary elections next month, Iran's reformist-led interior ministry said Saturday.

More half of those barred from the February 18 polls -- 402 candidates -- had passed a preliminary vetting by the interior ministry, the official IRNA news agency said.

The wholesale rejection of so many candidates -- most of them supporters of reformist President Mohammad Khatami or members of the tolerated opposition -- has sparked an outcry from the reformers who had hoped to end the conservatives' control of parliament which has blocked the president's reforms.

"Many loyal individuals, who have rendered valuable service to the revolution" have been disqualified, the head of the ministry's elections office, Javad Ghadimi-Zakeri, complained Wednesday. The Guardians comprise six representatives of Iran's spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, and six legal experts appointed by the conservative controlled parliament.

They are charged with ensuring candidates are committed to the principles of Iran's Islamic Republic, including the supremacy of the spiritual leader, and are "good Muslims".

Leading reformers had warned that the Guardians might use their powers to reject reformist candidates wholesale.

But Khamenei said it was "incorrect behaviour" to criticize the Guardians and insisted their rulings "must be accepted by everyone."