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Iran reformists deem vote 'historical fiasco'

TEHRAN -- Candidates considered loyal to Iran's Islamic rulers regained control of parliament, denying liberals an important forum in their drive to ease social and political restrictions, according to the results yesterday from the country's disputed elections.

Reformers called the vote a "historical fiasco," noting that voters could select only from candidates chosen by conservative clerics. The European Union criticized the elections as undemocratic and warned of a new chill on efforts to warm relations between Tehran and the West.

"It's plain for everybody to see that these were, from the start, flawed elections," Britain's foreign secretary, Jack Straw, said.

A disappointed Bush administration vowed yesterday to keep hoping for revival of a reformist trend in the country.

"We continue to believe the Iranian people deserve a government that responds to their aspirations, and we believe that that desire on the part of the Iranian people will continue to be expressed in a variety of ways," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said.

Conservatives took at least 149 seats in the 290-member parliament, which has been controlled by proreform lawmakers since their landslide win four years ago. Reformers and self-described independents won about 65 seats, according to Interior Ministry figures. The final count was expected today.

The conservative victory was expected even before Friday's election. Reformers widely boycotted the vote after more than 2,400 liberal candidates were barred from running.

The nationwide turnout was slightly more than 50 percent, a noticeable drop from the 67 percent tallied in the last parliamentary elections, in 2000. In Tehran, the Iranian capital and the country's biggest city, just a third of the voters turned out, the ministry said.

Despite the lower numbers, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei welcomed the turnout as a "national and an Islamic epic in the true meaning."

The shift of control in parliament expands the influence of theocracy and denies liberals an important forum for challenging the almost limitless powers of the country's Islamic leaders. It also deprives reformist President Mohammad Khatami of a key source of support.

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