TEHRAN, Iran - A popular former president has resumed attacks against hard-line Iranian clerics threatening to disqualify reformists from forthcoming elections.

In comments published yesterday, Mohammad Khatami, the president until 2005, was quoted as telling residents in the town of Tabriz that arbitrarily banning candidates was against Iran's constitution and Islam.

The remarks were the latest criticism of the hard-line bloc, which includes Khatami's successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"No one and no authority has the right to deprive an individual, who . . . is loyal to the constitution and has not committed any crimes proved in court, of the right to elect or be elected," Khatami was quoted by several pro-reform newspapers as saying Thursday. "Such deprivation, under any pretext, is against the spirit of the constitution and Islam."

Khatami, who voiced similar criticism this month, was referring to threats made by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, the powerful head of the Guardian Council, Iran's constitutional watchdog.

Jannati, a key ally of Ahmadinejad and Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in early December that any candidate determined by the Guardian Council to be disloyal to the principles of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution would be barred from parliamentary elections in March.

The Guardian Council's 12 members include six clerics handpicked by Khamenei, who has final say on all state matters and is commander in chief of the armed forces. Hard-liners consider him to be answerable only to God.

In 2004, the council prohibited thousands of reformists from running in the elections, resulting in the hard-liners' takeover of the parliament.

Political analyst Leila Chamankhah said Khatami's repeated attacks against Iran's hard-liners and his increasing public appearances signaled a vigorous reentry into politics ahead of parliamentary elections in March.

"This is a new political comeback for Khatami after his departure from the presidency," she said. "He feels he has a responsibility to come to the support of reformers who fight for greater democracy and personal freedoms in Iran."

Khatami largely disappeared from the spotlight after he stepped down as president. He has said he wouldn't run in the March elections but has begun publicly supporting reformists who hope to retake control of the legislature from hard-liners.

The former president won a landslide victory in 1997 on the promise of promoting political and social freedom. He was reelected in 2001, and his term saw a significant expansion of social freedoms.

Reformists are trying to form a grand coalition with independent groups in the hope of winning the coming elections. However, disqualification of prominent reformists could dash their hopes of retaking control of the parliament.

Calling hard-liners such as those on the Guardian Council "fossilized," Khatami said they were a major obstacle to Iran's progress.