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Sunday 21 September 2014

Support surge for Iran cleric keen on talks with the West

Robert Tait

Published 15/06/2013 | 05:00

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Iranians have voted for a new president, with reports emerging of a late surge of votes for a cleric who favours dialogue with the West.

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Hassan Rowhani, who has campaigned on a pledge of "constructive interaction with the world", was tipped as the leader in a contest otherwise dominated by hardliners loyal to the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

While still conservative, Mr Rowhani (64) was believed to have gained the support of reform-minded Iranians.

Opinion polls in Iran are unreliable, but a survey from IPOS, a US-based polling group, put Mr Rowhani in the lead on 38pc of the vote.

Mr Rowhani's campaign manager said: "From what we are hearing, by God's grace and with the people's support, he is leading in all the country, down to the level of villages."

Opening times at polling stations were extended into the early evening, with reports of a turnout as high as 70pc. Some interpreted that as a sign that supporters of the country's cowed opposition movement had opted to vote rather than boycott.

Their own preferred candidates, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, have both been banned from standing in an attempt by the authorities to prevent a repeat of the violent aftermath of the disputed polls of 2009. But, in the two men's absence, reformists have been encouraged to transfer their allegiance to Mr Rowhan.

Although scarcely a radical, Mr Rowhani's more conciliatory approach is in firm contrast with the confrontational stance of the outgoing president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Close behind Mr Rowhani is Mohamed Qalibaf, a tough ex-police chief and current mayor of Tehran, who was put on 26pc in the Ipos poll. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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