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Iran: Rouhani leads initial count; over 70 percent turnout
20 May 2017, 04:51 | Myron Mathis
Iranians wait to cast their votes during the presidential election in Tehran Iran
When he was swept to office four years ago with three times as many votes as his nearest challenger, Iranians held high hopes that he could fulfil his promises to reduce the country's isolation overseas and bring more freedoms at home. Oscar-winning director Asghar Farhadi, a vocal Rouhani supporter, voted in Cannes, France where he was attending the film festival.
Official results, which will be announced by Iran's Ministry of Interior, are not expected until later this weekend.
Raisi is seen by many as close to Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's current supreme leader, though Khamenei has not gone so far as to endorse Raisi.
While Raisi had been widely seen as Khamenei's preferred candidate, Rouhani had history and hope on his side.
Under Iran's system of government, which was implemented after the 1979 Islamic Revolution, all candidates must be vetted by a religious panel prior to gaining approval to run for president. They had thrown their support behind Raisi to safeguard its interests. "I believe that the presidential election is very important".
"We want freedom of the press", he declared.
The election is largely viewed as a referendum on the 68-year-old cleric's more moderate policies, which paved the way for the nuclear accord despite opposition from hard-liners. Rouhani promised in his 2013 campaign to free the men, but that pledge so far remains unfulfilled.
Rouhani, a moderate, was a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States, the European Union and other partners and his first term was marked by an emergent worldwide engagement. Rouhani has been unable to secure the release of reformist leaders from house arrest, and media are barred from publishing the words or images of his reformist predecessor Khatami.
"Democracy in Iran is allowed to bloom only a few days every four years, while autocracy is evergreen".
Rouhani, considered a moderate, was a key architect of the 2015 nuclear deal with the United States, the European Union and other partners.
(AP Photo/Vahid Salemi). Supporters of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani flash the victory sign from their auto outside a polling station for the presidential and municipal councils election, in Tehran, Iran, Friday, May 19, 2017.
Meanwhile, U.S. President Trump arrived in Saudi Arabia Saturday morning, for a visit with the country's royal leaders.
Rouhani, known for decades as a mild-mannered member of the establishment, campaigned as an ardent reformist to stir up the passions of young, urban voters yearning for change. At times he crossed traditional rhetorical boundaries, openly attacking the human rights record of the security forces and the judiciary.
The big turnout appeared to have favoured Rouhani, whose backers' main worry has been apathy among reformist-leaning voters disappointed with the slow pace of change.
But Raisi's lackluster performance in televised debates - and his role in approving the executions of thousands of political prisoners in the 1980s - turned off many voters. A sense of guilt haunts me if I don't vote."As people walked out of the hall after casting their vote, others cheered and slapped their backs while some took selfies."There is close fight between President Hassan Rouhani and Ebrahim Raisi".
"We had a bet among friends, and I said Raisi would win and I think that encouraged a few of my friends who might not have voted to come out and vote".
Voters stand in a queue to cast their ballots during the presidential election in a Jewish and Christian district in the center of Tehran, Iran, May 19, 2017.
Raisi has blamed Rouhani for mismanaging the economy and has travelled to poor areas holding rallies, pledging more welfare benefits and jobs.
REZA SAYAH: Marandi says, no matter who wins the vote, U.S. -Iran relations will remain icy, and, he says, there is little chance of confrontation.
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Counting underway in Iran Presidential election
Iranians overseas were also voting in over 300 locations, including 55 in the USA , where more than 1 million Iranians live. Iran's Supreme Leader Grand Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was among the first to cast his ballot and urged others to do the same.