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TEHRAN: Iranians poured into polling stations on Friday to give their verdict on President Hassan Rouhani and his troubled efforts to rebuild ties with the world and kick-start the struggling economy.

Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric who spearheaded a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, has sought to frame the election as a choice between greater civil liberties and "extremism".

But he faces stiff competition from hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56, who has positioned himself as a defender of the poor and called for a much tougher line with the West.

"We are still not pleased with the situation, but in the four years of Rouhani there has been a relative improvement and I'm voting to keep that," said Alireza Nikpour, a 40-year-old photographer in Tehran.

The president and his popular foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif were swarmed by supporters as they voted early in the capital.

Together, they helped secure the landmark deal with six powers led by the United States that eased crippling economic sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran's nuclear programme.

"The enthusiastic participation of Iranians in the election reinforces our national power and security," said Rouhani after casting his vote.

Raisi says he will stick by the nuclear deal, but points to a persistent economic slump as evidence Rouhani's diplomatic efforts have failed.

"Instead of using the capable hands of our young people to resolve problems, they are putting our economy in the hands of foreigners," he said at a closing campaign rally in second city Mashhad on Wednesday.

He has targeted working-class voters hit by high unemployment and subsidy cuts, as well as those who worry the values of the 1979 revolution are under threat.

"I think the most important factors are the ones we had a revolution for, like establishing social justice and removing poverty," said 23-year-old engineering student Mohammad Ali Serkani at a polling station in Tehran.

"I voted Raisi because the Rouhani government and the nuclear deal stopped a lot of research in scientific fields such as nuclear, missile and space technology," he added.

Rouhani has warned that hardliners must be kept away from Iran's diplomatic levers at a delicate moment in relations with the United States.

"One wrong decision by the president can mean war," he said at his own Mashhad rally.

Rouhani gained a reprieve on Wednesday when Washington agreed to continue waiving nuclear-related sanctions, keeping the deal on track for now.

But US President Donald Trump has launched a 90-day review of the accord that could see it abandoned, and is visiting Iran's bitter regional rival Saudi Arabia this weekend.

Copyright AFP (Agence France-Press), 2017
 

 

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