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Iran: Interior Ministry Warns Of Vote Fraud Ahead Of Presidential Runoff

Iran's Interior Ministry is warning about possible fraud ahead of the 24 June presidential runoff. The warning follows last night's validation of the vote in the 17 June first round by Iran's powerful Guardians Council. That conservative election watchdog dismissed allegations of vote rigging, clearing the way for the runoff to go ahead. Iranians will choose between pragmatic former President Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani and ultraconservative Tehran Mayor Mahmud Ahmadinejad. Several pro-reform groups and personalities are urging their supporters to vote for Rafsanjani, since an Ahmadinejad win would give anti-Western religious hardliners control of every state institution.

Prague, 21 June 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Iran's Interior Ministry warned today that the presidential runoff is at risk of vote rigging on an even greater scale than is alleged to have occurred in the first round.

Interior Ministry spokesman Jahanbakhsh Khanjani told reporters in Tehran that people from institutions whose job it is to protect the people and reinforce order instead "orchestrated and organized the people's vote" ahead of the first round. He added that "they might do it again, and even stronger this time."

Several presidential candidates had expressed similar concerns before the vote, warning of the interference of Iran's military in the elections.

The allegations of vote rigging did not concern the stuffing of ballot boxes, but rather an organized campaign in favor of some of the candidates through cash payments. The Interior Ministry, which is in charge of organizing the vote, is under the control of the reformist wing of the Iranian establishment. The Guardians Council, which oversees elections, is affiliated with the conservative camp.

Last night, the Guardians Council dismissed all such allegations, however, and announced in a statement that the first-round vote was sound and that the second round will be held as scheduled.

Yesterday four newspapers that had published a critical letter to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei by third-place presidential candidate Hojatoleslam Mehdi Mahdavi-Karrubi were barred from publishing. The Tehran Prosecutor's Office accused them of "spreading lies and rumors."

In his letter, Mahdavi-Karrubi -- a moderate cleric -- complained that the country's Revolutionary Guards and Basiji militia forces had engaged in a vote-buying scheme.

"Police officers came, and they had a letter from a prosecutor," Karim Arqandehpour, senior editor of the reformist banned daily "Eqbal," told Reuters yesterday from Tehran. "It was a verdict, a judiciary verdict, to ban us just for one day. It didn't mention anything to let us know about the reason for banning, but we think it was because of Mr. Karrubi's letter to our supreme leader."

"Eqbal" remained closed today. At least two of the other three dailies have resumed publication.

Meanwhile, the election campaign is expected to intensify in the coming days.

The two candidates in the 24 June runoff, former President Hashemi-Rafsanjani and Tehran Mayor Ahmadinejad, are allowed to campaign until 24 hours before the start of the vote.

Iranian news agencies have been carrying statements of support for both candidates by numerous groups and personalities.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani is considered a pragmatist whose two-term presidency from 1989 to 1997 brought modest social and economic reforms. He is said to wield enough influence to mend ties with the United States and help solve Iran's nuclear dispute with the West.

Ahmadijenad, a former instructor with the Basiji volunteer militia and Revolutionary Guard, is a follower of strict Islamic codes. His supporters say he is a fundamentalist with "ties to the people" who can solve their problems.

Today, 132 members of the conservative-controlled parliament called on Iranians to vote for Amadijenad. A group of Koran experts and publishers have also expressed support for Ahmadijenad, calling him the one candidate who can achieve the ideals of Ayatollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Hashemi-Rafsanjani's supporters range from conservatives to reformists and even include secular critics of the establishment, who warn against the consequences of an Ahmadijenad presidency.

Prominent Iranian journalist and human rights activist Emadeddin Baghi warned that Rafsanjani's defeat would lead to a worsening of the human rights situation in Iran.

Still others, such as Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi, said they would not vote at all because the elections are not free and fair.

"As a simple citizen, as a lawyer, a citizen who believes in human rights principles, I'm ready to participate [only] in elections that are healthy, free, and based on human rights principles," Ebadi said.

Another prominent dissident, Hashem Aghajari, who was once sentenced to death for blasphemy, also said he would not vote.

(Radio Farda correspondent Nazi Azima contributed to this story.)

[For background and an archive of our coverage of Iran's ninth-ever presidential election, see RFE/RL's dedicated Iran Votes 2005 webpage.]