New Iran parliament convenes despite virus pandemic
DUBAI - Iran's new parliament convened on Wednesday after the February 21 elections under strict health protocols and social distancing rules to ward off the coronavirus in one of the hardest-hit Middle Eastern countries.
Many lawmakers wore masks and their temperatures were taken before entering the parliament building in southern Tehran, Iranian media reported.
Iran's hardline watchdog body, the Guardian Council, which must approve parliamentary candidates, disqualified thousands of moderates and leading conservatives and permitted voters a choice mostly between hardline and low-key conservative candidates loyal to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to contest the elections.
Like hardliners, conservatives back the ruling theocracy, but unlike them support more engagement with the outside world.
Iran's 290-seat parliament has no major influence on foreign affairs or Iran's nuclear policy, which are determined by Khamenei. But it might bolster hardliners in the 2021 election for president and toughen Tehran's foreign policy.
Next week, lawmakers will choose a parliament speaker for a one-year term.
Iran's health ministry said on Tuesday that the death toll in Iran had reached 7,508 with 139,511 confirmed cases. State TV said all 268 lawmakers who attended the opening ceremony had tested negative for the coronavirus.
"We are among the countries that have been successful in their fight against this dangerous virus," President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech to parliament broadcast live on state TV.
Because of the outbreak, the lawmakers postponed a traditional visit to the shrine of the founder of the Islamic Republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Iran's state news agency IRNA reported.
After 69 days, Iran reopened holy Shi'ite sites and shrines across the country. Pilgrims have to respect social distancing regulations when entering.
Dozens of Iranian officials have died of the coronavirus, including two lawmakers elected in February.