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Asia-pacific

Ahmadinejad set for victory in hotly contested vote

©

Video by Sarah DRURY

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2009-06-14

Hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is heading for a resounding win in Iran's disputed presidential race, officials say. Reformist challenger Mirhossein Mousavi has also declared himself the victor, alleging voting irregularities.

AFP - Hardline incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was set on Saturday for a landslide victory in Iran's presidential race, crushing his moderate rival and Western hopes of change in the Islamic republic.

But supporters of his main challenger, ex-premier Mir Hossein Mousavi, cried foul and some were beaten by police as they gathered in Tehran to await the final results, an AFP correspondent said.

"Doctor Ahmadinejad, by getting a majority of the votes, has become the definite winner of the 10th presidential election," state news agency IRNA declared as his jubilant supporters took to the streets in celebration.

 



Mousavi, one of Ahmadinejad's three rivals in the most heated election campaign since the Islamic revolution, also declared himself the victor and protested at voting irregularities, suggesting a tense feud ahead.

Ahmadinejad stormed ahead with 64 percent of the vote, more than double the 32 percent for Mousavi, with most ballots counted, election commission chief Kamran Daneshjoo said, highlighting the massive turnout.

The international community has been keenly watching the election for any signs of a shift in policy after four years of hardline rhetoric from the 52-year-old Ahmadinejad and a standoff over Iran's nuclear drive.

Mousavi, who was hoping for a political comeback on a groundswell of support among the nation's youth, complained of a shortage of ballot papers and attacks on his campaign offices.

"In line with the information we have received, I am the winner of this election by a substantial margin," said Mousavi, who had pledged to ease restrictions particularly on women, and fix Iran's ailing economy.

Some Mousavi supporters accused the authorities of underhand tactics to give Ahmadinejad a second term.

"I fear they played with people's vote," said one woman as policeman beat some protestors with batons outside Mousavi's campaign office in Tehran.

"They have ruined the country and they want to ruin it more over the next four years," shouted the irate mob.

But Ahmadinejad's triumphant supporters took to the streets, honking their horns and waving Iranian flags.

"Where are the greens? -- in a mousehole," the crowds mocked, referring to Mousavi's campaign colour.

"I am happy that my candidate has won -- he helps the poor and he catches the thieves," said sandwich seller Kamra Mohammadi, 22.

The election underscored deep divisions in Iran after four years under Ahmadinejad, who could count on massive support in the rural heartland, while in the big cities young men and women threw their weight behind Mousavi.

The elite Revolutionary Guards had warned of a crackdown on any "velvet revolution" by supporters of the 67-year-old who was prime minister during the war with neighbouring Iraq in the 1980s.

Iran has long been at loggerheads with the West as Ahmadinejad delivered a succession of fiery tirades against Israel, repeatedly questioned the Holocaust and vowed to press on with nuclear work despite UN sanctions, denying allegations Tehran was seeking the atomic bomb.

Passions ran high during the campaign, with Ahmadinejad and his challengers hurling insults at each other in acrimonious live television debates while their supporters staged massive carnival-like rallies.

Ahmadinejad, portraying himself as a man of the people, pledged to stamp out corruption and help the poor -- while his rivals accused him of mismanaging the economy of one of the world's top oil producers and damaging the nation's international standing.

The election was a clear two-horse race, with latest results showing former Revolutionary Guards chief Mohsen Rezai coming a distant third with 2.5 percent of the vote and ex-parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi with less than one percent.

Ahmadinejad's campaign manager Mojtaba Samareh Hachemi dismissed the rival camp's claim of victory as a "joke" .

Daneshjoo said turnout was estimated at about 80 percent of the 46.2 million electorate.

"Historic Turnout on the Nation's Great Day," trumpeted the headline in the state-run Iran newspaper.

US President Barack Obama, who has called for dialogue with Iran after three decades of severed ties, said he saw the "possibility of change" in relations with the regional Shiite powerhouse.

"Whoever ends up winning the election in Iran, the fact that there's been a robust debate hopefully will help advance our ability to engage them in new ways," Obama said.

Even if Mousavi had won, it was doubtful there would be any major shift in Iran's nuclear and foreign policy as all decisions on matters of state rest with all-powerful supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In the United States, home to the largest Iranian expatriate population, regime opponents condemned the election as a "sham."

The vote has nevertheless highlighted a call for change after 30 years of restrictive clerical rule in a country where 60 percent of the population was born after the revolution.

The economy was also a key issue, with Iran battling rampant inflation, rising unemployment and plunging income from crude oil exports.

Date created : 2009-06-13

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