TEHRAN - Iran's main reformist party loyal to embattled President Mohammad Khatami Thursday renewed its threat to stage a mass walk-out from government, citing overwhelming pressure from powerful hardliners.
The Islamic Iran Participation Front (IIPF) said in a statement that ultra-conservative actions, including what it said were politically-motivated trials, had caused the Islamic republic's reform camp to lose its legitimacy.
"The loss of legitimacy of reformists is a direct consequence of the actions of extremists," said the IIPF, which is led by the president's brother and deputy parliament speaker, Mohammad Reza Khatami.
Threatening to quit power, the party said that "even if such an option is a bad one, it appears inevitable when compared to other options that are even worse."
In particular, the party hit out at the trial of three opinion pollsters involved in a survey that showed most Iranians favour resuming dialogue with the United States.
One of the pollsters on trial is Abbas Abdi, a top member of the IIPF and a former hostage-taker at the US embassy after the 1979 revolution.
Complaining that the accused were being held in solitary confinement and denied access to legal help, the party poured scorn on the fact that the three had admitted in court to "mistakes" and, in Abdi's case, even retracted radical reformist demands.
"Like in all of the political trials of recent years, when the accused find themselves in a normal situation the truth is revealed," the IIPF statement said.
The pollsters are facing a range of charges including seeking to pass on secret information to foreign governments, but reformists have accused the judiciary, a bastion of the religious right, of deliberately targetting supporters of President Khatami.
The IIPF also hit out at "extremists hostile to reforms who call for the dissolution of the Participation Front and for a purge of the government and parliament, and who insult the president and dare to compare him and his supporters to Bani Sadr."
Abolhassan Bani Sadr was the first president after the Islamic revolution, but was forced out of office and to exile in France after religious hardliners deemed his short-lived government to be too liberal.
Just a week ago, hardline cleric Hojatoleslam Mohammad Reza Faker compared President Khatami - who has promised to bring "Islamic democracy" to Iran - to Bani Sadr. The cleric later withdrew his remarks, and said he was referring the president's brother and IIPF leader.
Certain hardliners, the IIPF said, are seeking to pull Iran back to the situation before President Khatami's first landslide election win of 1997.
"A rejection of popular will" by conservatives, the IIPF argued, "has divided the regime into elected and non-elected institutions which spend their time seeking to neutralise each other."
Much of Khatami's promised reforms have been blocked by powerful legislative oversight bodies, which are controlled by conservatives who fear his agenda is undermining the foundations of the Islamic republic.