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Big turnout as Iran votes to shape post-sanctions era

Iranians voted in elections on Friday likely to determine the pace of their emergence from years of economic isolation, with Iran’s top leader, a stern critic of detente with the West, urging a big turnout to snub the country’s “enemies”.

Iranians voted-AV

There were early signs of enthusiastic participation in Iran’s first polls since a nuclear deal last year led to a lifting of sanctions and deeper diplomatic engagement abroad.

Long queues formed at polling stations in the capital and state television showed throngs of voters in Ahvaz and Shiraz. It was unclear how the turnout might shape the outcome.

The vote could determine whether the Islamic Republic continues to emerge from effective diplomatic and economic quarantine after years of sanctions.

“Whoever likes Iran and its dignity, greatness and glory should vote. Iran has enemies. They are eyeing us greedily,” Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said after casting his vote, in a reference to Western powers.

“Turnout in the elections should be so high to disappoint our enemies … People should be observant and vote with open eyes and should vote wisely.”

At stake is control of the 290-seat parliament and the 88-member Assembly of Experts, the body that has the power to appoint and dismiss the supreme leader, Iran`s most powerful figure. Both are currently in the hands of hardliners.

During its next eight-year term it could name the successor to Khamenei, who is 76 and has been in power since 1989.

Supporters of President Hassan Rouhani, who championed the nuclear deal and is likely to seek a second presidential term next year, are pitted against conservatives deeply opposed to detente with Western powers.

“This is my religious duty to vote as Imam Khamenei said. My vote is a slap in the face of Islam’s enemies,” said 23-year old Hassan Ali Mehri in the holy Shi’ite city of Qom, saying the West “wants to harm our country and Islam”.

“I will vote because I like Rouhani and his policies. We should be patient and help him by voting for moderate candidates,” said housewife Mina Sabri, 56, in the northwestern city of Orumiyeh.

Rouhani said the government would spare no effort to protect people’s votes and to ensure healthy and legitimate elections, the official IRNA news agency reported him as saying.

The opposition website Kaleme said without elaborating that turnout was higher than in previous elections.

Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said no security issues had been reported, state news agency IRNA reported.

Influential former president Ayatollah Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, allied to Rouhani, told Reuters that Iran would lose if reformists were defeated in Friday`s contests.

Asked what would happen if reformists did not win, he said: “It will be a major loss for the Iranian nation.”

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