AFP: Iran's former conservative foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, now a top advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has announced he will compete in the presidential elections scheduled for mid-2005, the student news agency ISNA reported on Tuesday. "I believe it is my duty to enter the electoral competition and the voters can evaluate each candidate's capabilities", Velayati said. AFP

TEHRAN - Iran's former conservative foreign minister Ali Akbar Velayati, now a top advisor to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has announced he will compete in the presidential elections scheduled for mid-2005, the student news agency ISNA reported on Tuesday.

"I believe it is my duty to enter the electoral competition and the voters can evaluate each candidate's capabilities", Velayati said.

"Well-known figures will be competing in the next election and there is no room for the unknown." he added.

Late in November, Velayati had said he was "completely ready to run for presidency though (his) candidacy is not finalized yet".

Velayati headed the country's diplomacy from 1981 to 1997. He now advises Khamenei on international affairs and is a member of the Expediency Council, the Islamic Republic's top arbitration body.

Another close Ayatollah aide, Ali Larijani, has also signalled his intention to stand. Larijani represents the leader in the Supreme National Security Council. He was head of the state television until May.

The council for coordinating forces of the Islamic revolution (CCFIR), which has drawn together most conservative parties and movements, has set up a committee of five to come up with the final candidate of the conservative camp.

The committee members are Ali Akbar Nategh Noori, former speaker of the parliament and President Mohammad Khatami's in 1997; Mohammad Reza Bahonar, vice president of parliament and secretary general of Engineers' Islamic Association; Habibollah Asgarolladi, former secretary general of the Islamic Coalition Association (traditionalists close to the bazaar); Seyed Reza Taghavi, from the Association of Militant Clergy (AMC); and Hossein Fadai, secretary general of the Association of Islamic Republic Devotees.

According to the Iranian press, they have to introduce their chosen candidates to the conservatives' congress on Friday.

On Monday, Mohsen Rezai, former head of the Revolutionary Guards, the regime's ideological army, announced his bid for presidency.

Influential former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, now the head of the Expediency Council, is also mulling a comeback as president but has yet to declare his intentions.

From the reformist camp, former speaker of the parliament Mehdi Karoubi has been mentioned as a possibility.

Iran's current president, the reformist Mohammad Khatami, is nearing the end of his second consecutive term. The constitution bars presidents from serving more than two consecutive mandates.

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