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Iran endorses reformers' victory 3 months after vote

A council dominated by hard-liners endorsed long-delayed legislative election results from Tehran on Saturday, giving top allies of Iran's reformist president 26 of 30 seats in the city _ and assuring reformers control of parliament for the first time since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Many of the winners in Tehran, the capital, are key backers of reforms that include easing strict Islamic law and improving ties with the United States.

The election for Iran's parliament, or Majlis, was held Feb. 18. Reformist candidates won an overwhelming victory in Tehran, but the Guardian Council _ the supervisory body dominated by hard-liners _ had been holding the results up with allegations of widespread fraud.

Mohammad-Reza Khatami, the president's brother and a leading reformer, won the most votes. Coming in second was Jamileh Kadivar, wife of the culture minister, Ataollah Mohajerani. Both support greater press freedoms.

On Saturday, though, the Guardian Council endorsed the Tehran results, making final the victories by 26 allies of President Mohammad Khatami, according to results broadcast by Tehran radio. The 12-man council awarded two seats to hard-liners, including one to former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, and annulled results for two others that will be re-contested at an unspecified date.

The move came two days after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the final authority in Iran, said the results should not be delayed any longer. Khamenei, who normally sides with the hard-liners, asked the council to stop a re-count and invalidate votes in all ballot boxes where discrepancies had been discovered.

The new 290-seat parliament opens May 28 and will feature a solid reformist majority. Hard-liners control no more than 70 seats, while the reformers also had won 120 seats outside Tehran in the first round of elections and between 47 and 52 seats in runoff elections last month. All runoff results have not yet been ratified.

Losing control of the parliament is a severe blow to hard-liners. The parliament can pass laws granting greater media freedom and order investigations into the affairs of leading hard-liners who had never had to answer to anyone.

Still, hard-liners dominate the judiciary, military and broadcast media, leaving them enough power to stall the president's agenda.

Saturday's results provided the first good news in months for reformers, who have been battered by a hard-line crackdown aimed at rolling back the popular reforms initiated by Khatami since he took office in 1997.

Hard-liners maintain that Khatami's attempts to loosen the social, political and cultural restrictions dictated by Iran's Islamic laws go against the ideals of the revolution that brought the clergy to power. Over the past month, 18 reformist newspapers have been ordered shut by the hard-line judiciary. Several leading reformers have been arrested and jailed.

The managing directors of 17 newspapers, some of which have been closed down, were summoned Saturday to appear in a press court because of unspecified complaints lodged against them, state-run media reported. Most were with reformist papers, though some from conservative ones also were called.

Also Saturday, the press court that implemented the ban on reformist publications ordered the detention of a presidential confidant. Saeed Pourazizi, who began publishing the pro-democracy Bahar earlier this month, was allowed free on $50,000 bail, editors at his newspaper said.

"Hard-liners are willing to do anything to prevent some of the most prominent reformists from taking their legitimate seats in parliament," said Ahmad Zeidabadi, an analyst and columnist for some of the papers that were closed.

Most of the new reformist lawmakers from Tehran back the idea of improving relations with the United States. One, Ali-Reza Nouri, called before the election for a national referendum on whether Iran should restore ties with Washington. He ended up as the third-highest vote-getter in the capital.