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Polls Open In Iran

Campaigning in Iran in the run-up to today's voting (file photo) 17 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Voters in Iran are going to the polls today under tight security to elect a new president, Radio Farda reported.

The government has increased police and military patrols as several bomb attacks this past week have killed up to 10 people as the country prepared for its ninth presidential poll since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Voters are choosing a replacement for outgoing President Mohammad Khatami, who constitutionally cannot seek a third four-year term. Some reformist groups have urged voters not to participate in the poll.

"When we come to the ballot box in the framework of the constitution and we vote, we are, indeed, voting for the constitution and the system, regardless of whom we are voting for," Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on state television after casting his ballot on 17 June, Radio Farda reported.

"The propaganda that persuades people not to vote does not come from the West’s democratic camp," Khamenei said. "It comes from a number of our enemies -- those enemies who do not want an Islamic system with a religious identity to be, at the same time, a democratic system."

President Khatami also urged people to vote.

"I hope that with the enthusiastic participation of all women, men, and youngsters and adolescents in the elections, the difficult road to religious democracy, which is the result of the revolution, will be made smoother and easier and the decision of the Iranian nation will be respected by all of us," Khatami said.

Former President Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani is widely seen as the favorite among the seven candidates. The 70-year-old cleric has promised more personal freedom and pledged to solve economic problems, including providing jobs for the country's youth.

Former national police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf and former Education Minister Mostafa Moin are seen as his strongest challengers.

A run-off election will be necessary if no candidate wins more than 50 percent of the vote.

(RFE/Radio Farda/Reuters/AFP/AP)