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Early vote count puts moderate Hassan Rouhani ahead in Iran poll
Saturday June 15, 2013 11:26 AM, Agencies

Iran's reformist-backed presidential candidate surged to a wide lead in early vote counting on Saturday, a top official said, suggesting a flurry of late support could have swayed a race that once appeared solidly in the hands of Tehran's ruling clerics.

But the strong margin for former nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani was not yet enough to give him an outright victory and avoid a two-person runoff on next Friday.

Rohani had 46.6 per cent of the more than 861,000 votes tallied, said Iran's interior minister, Mostafa Mohammad Najjar, well ahead of Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf with about 14.6 per cent. Hardline nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili was slightly behind in third.

Earlier, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar told state television on Saturday that his electoral staff would not "compromise accuracy for speed".

It was unclear when the final count would be known. Iran has more than 50 million eligible voters, and turnout in Friday's election was believed to be high.

Many reform-minded Iranians who have faced years of crackdowns looked to Rohani's rising fortunes as a chance to claw back a bit of ground.

Millions of Iranians cast their votes in the presidential election Friday at over 60,000 polling stations to choose two-term President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's successor.

In the morning, the Islamic Republic's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, gave a call for a high turnout.

As Khamenei cast his vote, he urged the Iranians to actively participate in the election, saying that their participation would "determine the fate of the country", Xinhua reported.

The enemies intended to "discourage the Iranian people" so that "they would not attend the polling stations", said the leader, emphasising that "the Iranians disregard of the enemies' attempts follow their own expedience".

Polling stations stayed open for up to five hours later than planned as millions of Iranians turned out to cast their votes.

An announcement of initial results by the Interior Ministry, scheduled for around 1:30am local time, was then postponed by several hours.

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