| Mohammad Khatami
Tehran, Jan. 22 (Agencies): Iran's legislative watchdog said today women could run in June's presidential election, clearing up an ambiguous article of the constitution.
Iran's constitution says candidates should be 'rejal', an Arabic word for men. But Gholamhossein Elham, spokesman for the conservative Guardian Council, said the word could also refer to women.
'Women who have the necessary qualifications have the right to run in the presidential elections,' he was quoted as saying on the official Irna news agency.
The remarks, made in the western city of Khorramabad, made a sharp departure from the council's previous insistence on the literal, grammatically masculine, reading of the word 'rejal'.
Iran has many vocal women's rights groups. Women do not enjoy the same inheritance rights as men and their evidence in court is only worth half that of a man.
They are forced to cover their hair and wear loose fitting clothes that disguise the shape of their bodies.
The Front for Consolidating Democracy, a union of 15 reform-minded parties, in a letter to Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, secretary of the Guardian Council, thanked the hardline body for making it possible for women to stand.
'Member parties of the Front for Consolidating Democracy consider the candidacy of women in presidential elections as one of the key characteristics of religious democracy,' said the letter carried on Irna.
June's poll is expected to end Iran's reform movement, with conservatives tipped to extend their grasp on power to the presidency after taking control of parliament in May.
Iran's 2003 Nobel laureate Shirin Ebadi has repeatedly said she has no intention of running for the presidency.
Iran's presidential election is slated for June 17. Reformist President Mohammad Khatami is prevented from running for a third term by the constitution. The next President will face substantial challenges, including the task of convincing the world that Iran's nuclear programme is peaceful.