A member of Iran's constitutional watchdog group has said women cannot be presidential candidates, effectively killing the largely symbolic bids by about 30 women seeking to run in the June 14 election.

The semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi as saying on Thursday that the "law does not approve'' of a woman in the presidency and a woman on the ballot is "not allowed".

The Guardian Council, where Yazdi is a member, vets all candidates for the presidency and parliament.

A total of 686 people have registered to replace President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who cannot run for a third mandate because of term limits.

The final list will be announced on May 21, with only a handful of names expected on the ballot.

Even before the comments by Ayatollah Mohammad Yazdi, chances for a woman candidate in Iran's presidential election were considered nearly impossible.

Women also have registered as potential candidates in past presidential elections, but the Guardian Council appears to follow interpretations of the constitution that suggest only a man may hold Iran's highest elected office.

Constitution's wording

Women are cleared to run for Iran's parliament and have served as legislators.

While women have greater freedom in Iran than many other countries in the region, particularly Saudi Arabia and neighbouring Afghanistan, it is widely believed that the wording of the constitution closes the door on the presidency.

It says the president will be elected from religious-political men, or "rijal,'' a plural for man in Arabic that is common in Farsi, too.

Presumed candidates include former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who is backed by pro-reform groups, and rivals supported by the ruling ayatollahs such as Saeed Jalili, the top nuclear negotiator; Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, Tehran mayor's; and Ali Akbar Velayati, the former foreign minister.

A major question is whether the Guardian Council will clear Ahmadinejad's choice, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, who is also his close aide.

Mashaei's chances are severely hampered by his association with Ahmadinejad, who has fallen out of favour with the ruling theocracy over his challenges to the authority of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the Supreme Leader.

Source: Agencies