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Campaigning begins in Iran parliamentary election

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Tehran (AFP)

Campaigning kicked off in Iran on Thursday ahead of next week's crucial parliamentary election at which conservatives are expected to win most seats after thousands of moderates and reformists were disqualified.

The February 21 election comes after months of escalating tensions between Iran and its arch enemy the United States.

The Guardian Council, which vets candidates, said more than 7,000 qualified to stand in the election, but even more were disqualified, semi-official news agency ISNA reported.

"In this election 7,148 will compete for the parliament's 290 seats... and 7,296 have been disqualified," it quoted National Elections Commission chief Jamal Orf as saying.

Most of the barred candidates come from the ranks of moderate conservative President Hassan Rouhani's alliance with reformists.

There was not much fanfare seen on the streets of Tehran where posters went up for the first day of campaigning, an AFP correspondent reported.

State news agency IRNA said campaign posters and banners of candidates were also going up in other cities and towns in the country.

The purge of candidates is likely to discourage many Iranians from voting, but supporters of conservatives and ultra-conservatives are still expected to make a strong showing.

The parliament -- or Majles -- drafts legislation, ratifies international treaties and approves the country's budget.

But analysts say the election will be a rare opportunity to gauge sentiment of the Iranian public after months of turmoil.

Backing for Rouhani and the reformists has fallen away since US President Donald Trump withdrew from a nuclear deal that was supposed to give Iran relief from sanctions.

Since the withdrawal, Trump has slapped wave after wave of sanctions on Iran as part of a stated campaign of "maximum pressure".

The campaign has battered the economy of the Islamic republic, which saw nationwide protests against a fuel price hike turn violent in November before they were crushed by the security forces.

In January, Iran came to the brink of an all-out confrontation with the United States for the second time in seven months when it fired missiles at US troops in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of one of its top generals.

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