TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Hard-liners appear almost certain to
retake control of Iran’s legislature in parliamentary
elections today after hundreds of reformist candidates were
disqualified. In the latest sign of the conservatives’
boldness, they padlocked shut the capital’s last major
pro-reform newspapers.

The silencing of the two dailies — Yas-e-nou and Sharq
— yesterday was part of relentless pressure on media critical
of the Islamic establishment. But it carried an added blow just
before the elections, which most reformist politicians and
supporters plan to boycott.

Judiciary agents also searched and closed an election monitoring
office of the main reformist party, the Islamic Participation
Front, said a member of the group, speaking on condition of
anonymity. The group’s headquarters continued to operate.

Many liberals saw the closures as a show of force and confidence
by conservatives despite widespread accusations they have hijacked
the vote.

The ruling theocracy has barred more than 2,400 candidates who
sought greater political and social openness — effectively
sending the 290-seat parliament back under the wing of supreme
leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and the powerful clerical ranks he
commands.

All the parliament seats are up for election, but the only real
drama is how many people will vote.

Liberals have called for a mass no-show to embarrass the Islamic
leadership and weaken the credibility of the new parliament. They
have also broken a major political taboo and directly criticized
Khamenei, whose backers believe is answerable only to God.

The powerful judiciary — controlled by Khamenei —
closed the two newspapers after they published portions of a
statement from pro-reform lawmakers that attacked the supreme
leader and said freedom was being “trampled in the name of
Islam.”

But some reformers saw the crackdown in broader terms: a
possible pre-emptive strike in anticipation of a low voter turnout
and a hint of strong-arm tactics to come.

“Banning papers is essential for those who plan to commit
a parliamentary coup,” said Hamidreza Jalaeipour, a columnist
for Yas-e-nou and editor of three other newspapers that were banned
earlier.

The Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders demanded the
immediate reopening of the papers and condemned the
“censorship measures” to “silence the reformist
press.”

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