updated 3/17/2004 8:05:13 AM ET 2004-03-17T13:05:13

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami conceded defeat Wednesday of his key reform proposals, two bills that sought to check the powers of hard-liners, in what essentially acknowledges the failure of the pillars of his presidency.

"I withdraw the bills and declare that I have met with defeat," Khatami told reporters.

One of the bills aimed to increase presidential powers in order to stop constitutional violations by hard-liners. The other sought to bar the hard-line oversight body, the Guardian Council, from disqualifying parliamentary and presidential election candidates.

The Guardian Council, which vets all parliamentary legislation, rejected both bills several months ago, saying they were unconstitutional and against Islam. Khatami acknowledged Sunday that there would be no breakthrough in working out acceptable legislation.

"I am withdrawing (the presidential powers bill) so that the few powers that the president has now are not eliminated," Khatami said.

Khatami repeatedly has complained he is powerless to stop hard-liners, who have blocked all reform legislation, shut down more than 100 liberal publications and detained dozens of pro-reform activists and writers.

Reformists also accused the Guardian Council, which oversees elections, of disqualifying their candidates for the last parliamentary elections -- including many incumbent lawmakers -- to ensure control of what had been a reform-oriented parliament. Reformists boycotted elections they said were rigged so they had no chance of winning, and hard-liners easily retook control of parliament.

Without the parliament, Khatami and his Cabinet lost a key bastion of support.

In acknowledging he would now be unable to salvage legislation for meaningful political reform, Khatami also lashed out at the Guardian Council as harming Iran's Islamic government.

"Members of the Guardian Council should not weaken the system," he said.

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