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Iranian Hard-Liners Form Committee

January 18, 2000

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) _ A hard-line Iranian assembly reportedly has formed a committee to safeguard the authority of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

``The responsibility of this committee is to spell out the authority of the leader logically and protect it against possible doubts raised naturally in the society or injected artificially from abroad,″ Tuesday’s Arya daily quoted a member of the Experts Assembly as saying.

The Experts Assembly, which elects and supervises the supreme leader, last week condemned any opposition to Khamenei and appealed to voters ``not to elect pro-West″ candidates in the Feb. 18 parliamentary elections. The elections are shaping up as a showdown between candidates calling for more openness and those who fear the Islamic roots of Iran’s 1979 revolution are being forgotten.

Khamenei has the final say on all matters and has direct control of the Intelligence Ministry, the judiciary, the armed forces, and the broadcast network.

Jailed reformist Abdullah Nouri recently criticized Khamenei and said he was not above the law. Nouri, a former interior minister and close ally of Iran’s reformist President Mohammad Khatami, was sentenced last year to five years in jail for religious dissent.

Since his landslide election in 1997, Khatami has pushed for political reform, calling for an easing of strict social codes and greater freedom of speech. Khamenei, who leads the hard-liners, has used his absolute powers to stall reforms.

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