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Iran's presidential election sees both victory for rival candidates

IRAN'S state media declared that the hard-line incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won yesterday's presidential election, just minutes after reformist candidate Mir-Hossein Mousavi claimed himself "definite winner."

By getting more than 75 percent of votes in the rural areas of the country, Ahmadinejad determinately wins the election, Iran's official IRNA news agency said in a report minutes before 12:00 pm (1930 GMT), the deadline for voters after a six-hour extension.

But Iran's poll chief said about an hour later that only 19 percent of the total ballots were counted.

Mousavi, who took the lead in declaring victory in the closely-fought presidential race, said at a press conference, "according to the information we have received, I am the definite winner in this presidential election," without elaborating what kind of information has proven his win.

The poll chief said early results showed that Ahmadinejad leads by 69.04 percent of the votes, while his main rival Mir-Houssein Mousavi followed with 28.42 percent.

Two other candidates -- former chief of Islamic Revolutionary Corps Mohsen Rezaei and former Parliament Speaker Mehdi Karroubi --got only 1.62 percent and 0.9 percent respectively, said the poll chief.

But the Interior Ministry modified the numbers later to 68.8 percent for Ahmadinejad and 28.87 percent for Mousavi after 35 percent of ballots were counted.

Polling stations closed at 22:00 pm (1730 GMT), but voters who have already queued up were allowed to cast their ballots. More than 45,000 ballot boxes opened nationwide to the total 46. 2 million eligible voters simultaneously at 8:00 a.m. (0330 GMT).

Unprecedented turnout was seen in Iran's 10th presidential election since the victory of the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

More than 5 million voters had cast their votes in the first four hours of the election day, according to the Interior Ministry, while by 10:00 pm when polls closed, more than 20 million ballots have been cast.

The Interior Ministry expected the total turnout to exceed 70 percent, compared with that in the 2005 vote -- some 63 percent in the first round and about 48 percent in the run-off. The ministry has extended the voting time several times.

"I believe this year's presidential election will be the one to see most people voting," said Sedigheh Imani, a 23-year-old university student, before heading for the ballot boxes. "It's important that we can come and vote. It's important we show our presence here," she added.

"I never voted before, this is the first time," said another voter giving his name as Hassan, saying he was not interested in the previous presidential elections, but was attracted by this year 's intense campaigns and the sharp differences between the four presidential hopefuls.

Some three weeks of frenetic campaign, through series of fierce debates organized by the state TV, novel internet propaganda and carnivalesque street rallies that draw thousands of supporters, have almost made the year's election a unique one since 1979.

The tight presidential race was mainly between the conservative Ahmadinejad and reformist Mousavi who pledged more freedom to the people and better ties with West powers, as observers predicted, but prediction has remained cautious on who of the two would win.

Ahmadinejad, who has maintained a hard-line foreign policy against the West, has earned both support and criticism for his toughness and economic spending.

His success of speeding up Iran's nuclear plan despite pressure and sanctions from the West and his support for subsidies for lower-income families have won hearts of ultra-conservatives and many Iranian poor people.

The recent overtures offered by the new U.S. administration of President Barack Obama were used by Ahmadinejad's supporters to prove the success of his tough policies.

"I surely voted for Ahmadinejad," said a male voter who declined to give his name, at a polling station in downtown Tehran. "He is a national hero of Iran. During his presidency, Iran's fame and influence has increased," he added.

He said Ahmadinejad's policy is good for the poor, and Iran does not need the West countries.

Reformist Mousavi has vowed to pursue constructive interaction and a better relationship between Iran and the world if he is elected. He criticized Ahmadinejad's foreign policy, saying there is "absolutely no need to turn all countries into enemies."

Critics also blamed Ahmadinejad's toughness of boosting U.S. success in seeking UN sanctions against Iran and affecting the country's foreign relations.

Ahmadinejad's economic policy, which dramatically increased government spending, has also been a frequent target of criticism, due to the soaring inflation and high unemployment which Iran is suffering.

"We all like changes, we want Iran to have better relations with other countries, especially the powers," said Fazel Nikzad, an engineer in his 30s, implying his support for Mousavi.


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