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Minister: Elections in Iran called off

The Iranian interior minister said Saturday the reformist government of President Mohammad Khatami would call off parliamentary elections set for Feb. 20 because the hard-line Guardian Council insisted on barring thousands of candidates.

"The fate of over half of the seats are already decided," said Abdolvahed Moussavi Lari, the interior minister, the Fars News Agency reported.

Consequently, he said, "we do not consider the elections legitimate," and he added, "we will not hold the elections."

By barring so many candidates, the Guardian Council, the conservative watchdog of the government, made its most direct intervention in Iran's parliamentary history. In doing so, it created one of the worst crises in the 25-year history of the Iranian theocracy.

Moussavi Lari said it is the right of the government not to hold an election it believes cannot serve people's interests. The Interior Ministry is responsible for organizing the vote.

It was not clear whether there might be some sort of compromise, averting a showdown between the Iranian government and the council. But Khatami said on Saturday his negotiations with senior religious officials to resolve the crisis have failed.

"We have reached a deadlock with the Guardian Council," Khatami said, speaking at a wreath-laying ceremony at the shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

The Associated Press reported the Iranian president was later admitted to the hospital with severe back pain, forcing the postponement of an emergency Cabinet meeting to discuss the crisis.

"My government will only hold competitive and free elections," the official Islamic Republic News Agency quoted Khatami as saying. "The parliament must represent the views of the majority and include all tendencies."

A turning point might come today when dozens of reform members of Parliament have threatened to resign in protest over the council's action.

The interior minister's comments came a day after the Guardian Council reinstated fewer than one-third of the candidates it had barred from running in the elections. However, in restoring some of the candidates, it also increased the number of blacklisted members of Parliament to 87 from 83. Parliament has 290 members.

Iran's supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, intervened this month and asked the council to reinstate the members of Parliament and review the credentials of other candidates. But the council ignored the request in its decision Friday. It also refused a request by the Interior Ministry to postpone the elections.

Several Cabinet ministers and 28 provincial governors have resigned in protest over the council's action. Moussavi Lari said that it would be difficult to stop the flow of resignations.