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With Most Votes Counted, Iran's President Poised For Victory

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is greeted by well-wishers after voting in Tehran on June 12.

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad is greeted by well-wishers after voting in Tehran on June 12.

Iranian election officials have announced that incumbent conservative Mahmud Ahmadinejad has received 65 percent of the vote in the country's presidential election with a majority of the votes counted.

Election commission chief Kamran Daneshjoo said the closest challenger, reformest Mir Hossein Musavi, has received 32 percent of the vote.

But reformist Musavi, who was expected to present the strongest challenge to Ahmadinejad’s bid for a second four-year term, has already alleged flaws in the voting.

In a statement, Musavi said that he "strongly protests" what he described as "obvious violations" in the election.

"I'm warning I will not surrender to this dangerous charade," Musavi said in the statement. "The result of such performance by some officials will jeopardise the pillars of the Islamic Republic and will establish tyranny."

There were concerns among observers that the situation could prove volatile after Musavi preempted official announcements with a press conference at which he alleged irregularities and declared himself the “definite winner.”

Popular Test

The election has been widely regarded as one of Iran’s most vigorous since the Islamic revolution ushered in clerical rule three decades ago, with televised debates and massive demonstrations of partisanship at rallies and in the streets in the weeks before ballots were cast.

The Interior Ministry put turnout at an unprecedented 80 percent in voting on June 12, in a key test of the policies pursued by the fiery Ahmadinejad since the former Tehran mayor rode a platform of populism and disdain for Western “bullying” to the presidency in 2005.

Official news agencies said Ahmadinejad had secured more than half of the votes cast, making him the outright winner and allowing him to avoid a runoff like the one that brought him to power four years ago.

Reuters quoted Iran’s election commission saying Ahmadinejad was leading with nearly three-quarters of the vote, or 26 million ballots, counted. Roughly 46 million Iranians were eligible to vote.

Authorities had narrowed the field from nearly 500 aspirants to Ahmadinejad and three challengers, including Musavi and another fellow reformist, cleric Mehdi Karrubi, as well as a hard-line former Republican Guards commander, Mohsen Rezai.

Reuters reported some unrest overnight, with an eyewitness saying there were scuffles between police and chanting Musavi supporters in a Tehran square.

Officials warned in the run-up to voting that they would not tolerate unsanctioned gatherings, and security has been beefed up across the capital, Tehran, and in other big cities.

Radio Farda reported a teargas attack on a Musavi campaign office and quoted his campaign team accusing the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps, a powerful bastion of conservatism formed to protect the ideals of the 1979 revolution, of trying to intimidate voters at polling stations.

World Watches

While all four candidates have insisted on Iran’s right to enrich uranium on its own soil, Ahmadinejad’s openly confrontational style and extreme views, including casting doubt on the Holocaust and suggesting Israel should be “wiped off the map,” raise hackles in the West.

But the country’s spiraling inflation and growing unemployment were expected to be foremost in most voters’ minds.

U.S. President Barack Obama issued a statement ahead of the results expressing enthusiasm over debate surrounding the election and hope that Iran and the United States could engage “in new ways.”

Reuters quoted a senior U.S. State Department official as saying Obama’s “decision to engage Iran was not based on a particular electoral result” and pledging to “engage the Iranian government whether it is led by one faction or the other.”

Long Lines

Voting hours were extended into the evening to accommodate long lines at the polling stations.

If no candidate won a majority of votes, a second round of voting was due to be held on the Friday following the announcement, likely June 19.

Musavi and Karrubi appeared to have their strongest support among young urban voters, including members of Iran’s largest reformist student group, which endorsed Karrubi.

Under Iran’s Islamic constitution, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei holds the final say in political and religious matters. He had appeared to offer his tacit support to Ahmadinejad early in the campaign.

Rezai was expected to receive some votes from rightwing voters but was a clear outlier and not expected to seriously challenge the 52-year-old incumbent for the conservative mantle.

At his press conference before significant results trickled out, Musavi appealed to Supreme Leader Khamenei to intervene and stop what he said were violations of the law.

Text-messaging services -- a key campaign tool for reformers -- stopped working during voting, and some pro-Musavi websites were blocked.

The announcement of incomplete results was expected to continue through the day, with final results expected this evening.

written by Andy Heil from RFE/RL, Radio Farda, and wire reports