Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Ancient Land of Persia’

New Hamas leader says it is getting aid again from Iran

August 28, 2017

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — Hamas’ new leader in the Gaza Strip said Monday his group has repaired relations with Iran after a five-year rift and is using its newfound financial and military aid to gear up for new hostilities with Israel.

The announcement by Yehiyeh Sinwar came as U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was visiting Israel. At a meeting with the U.N. chief, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu complained about what he called rising anti-Israel activity by Iran and its allies in the region.

Iran was once the top backer of Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction. But Hamas broke with Iran in 2012 after the group refused to support Iran’s close ally, Syrian President Bashar Assad, in the Syrian civil war.

During a four-hour meeting with journalists, Sinwar said those ties have been restored and are stronger than ever. “Today, the relationship with Iran is excellent, or very excellent,” Sinwar said. He added that the Islamic Republic is “the largest backer financially and militarily” to Hamas’ military wing.

It was the first time that Sinwar has met reporters since he was elected in February. The 55-year-old Sinwar, who spent two decades in Israeli prison after being convicted of masterminding the abduction and killing of two Israeli soldiers, has close ties with Hamas’ militant wing and takes a hard line toward Israel.

Israel and Iran are bitter enemies, and Israel has recently expressed concern that Iran and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah are seeking a permanent military presence in Syria near the Israeli border. Both Hezbollah fighters and Iran have backed Assad’s forces in the Syrian war.

In his meeting with Guterres, Netanyahu alleged Iran is building sites in Syria and Lebanon to produce “precision-guided missiles” to be used against Israel. “Iran is busy turning Syria into a base of military entrenchment, and it wants to use Syria and Lebanon as warfronts against its declared goal to eradicate Israel,” Netanyahu said. “This is something Israel cannot accept. This is something the U.N. should not accept.”

Israel has also accused the U.N. peacekeeping force in Lebanon, UNIFIL, of failing to prevent Hezbollah from smuggling huge quantities of weapons into southern Lebanon in violation of a 2006 cease-fire. UNIFIL’s mandate is up for renewal at the end of the month and Israel is pressing for the force to have an increased presence to better monitor and prevent the alleged Hezbollah arms buildup.

UNIFIL’s commander, Maj. Gen. Michael Beary, told The Associated Press last week that he has no evidence that weapons are being illegally transferred and stockpiled in the Hezbollah-dominated south. But Guterres promised Netanyahu that he will do everything in my capacity” to ensure UNIFIL fulfills its obligations.

“I understand the security concerns of Israel and I repeat that the idea or the intention or the will to destroy the state of Israel is something totally unacceptable from my perspective,” he said. Responding to Israeli claims that the U.N. is biased, Guterres stressed his commitment to “treating all states equally.” He said those who call for Israel’s destruction peddle in a “form of modern anti-Semitism” — though he also said he doesn’t always agree with the country’s policies.

Guterres heads to the West Bank on Tuesday and is scheduled to visit Gaza on Wednesday. The U.N. maintains major operations in Gaza, running schools and health clinics and delivering humanitarian aid. Guterres is not scheduled to speak to Hamas.

Late Monday, Guterres met with Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, commander of COGAT, the defense body that is responsible for Palestinian civilian affairs. Mordechai blamed Hamas for the poor conditions in Gaza, saying the group tries to exploit civilians and aid programs. He also said Hamas’ refusal to return the remains of two dead Israeli soldiers, along with two Israeli civilians it is holding, hinders Israeli efforts to assist Gaza.

“The terror organization Hamas does not hesitate at all and repeatedly exploits the Gaza residents by attempting to take advantage of Israel’s assistance, despite the severe civil hardships in the strip,” Mordechai said.

Guterres later met with the families of the dead soldiers and captive Israeli civilians. In his briefing with reporters, Sinwar would not say how much aid Iran provides his group. Before the 2012 breakup, Iran provided an estimated $50 million a month to Hamas.

Hamas wrested control of Gaza from the Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’ forces in 2007. Since then, it has fought three wars with Israel. Hamas has killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, shootings and other attacks. It is considered a terrorist group by Israel, the United States and the European Union.

Sinwar stressed that the Iranian aid is for “rebuilding and accumulating” Hamas’ military powers for a larger fight against Israel that is meant to “liberate Palestine.” “Thousands of people work every day to make rockets, (dig) tunnels and train frogmen,” he said. “The relationship with Iran is in this context.”

But the shadowy leader said his movement does not intend to start a fourth war with Israel, instead preferring to remedy dire living conditions in the impoverished coastal enclave. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas takeover a decade ago. Trying to pressure Hamas and regain control, Abbas has asked Israel to reduce electricity supplies to Gaza, and he has slashed the salaries of thousands of his former government employees there.

The result is that Gaza suffers acute power outages of up to 16 hours a day, unemployment of nearly 50 percent and widespread poverty. Sinwar has turned to Egypt, which has begun to ease the blockade as it seeks Hamas’ help in controlling their border. The Egyptian military has been fighting an Islamic insurgency in the Sinai desert, near Gaza.

Relations with Cairo “have improved dramatically,” Sinwar said. Egypt has recently sent fuel to ease the power crisis in response to Hamas’ building of a buffer zone along the border. “We will knock on all the doors, except that of the (Israeli) occupation, to resolve the problems,” he said.

Sinwar was among more than 1,000 Palestinians released by Israel in 2011 in exchange for an Israeli soldier, Gilad Schalit, whom Hamas kidnapped in 2006. Sinwar said there would be no new talks over a prisoner swap until Israel frees 54 prisoners released in the Schalit swap that have been re-arrested.

“We are ready to start negotiations through a mediator, but only when the table is cleaned. Freed prisoners must feel they are immune.”

Federman reported from Jerusalem.

Advertisements

Iranian president threatens to restart nuclear program

August 15, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s president issued a direct threat to the West on Tuesday, claiming his country is capable of restarting its nuclear program within hours — and quickly bringing it to even more advanced levels than in 2015, when Iran signed the nuclear deal with world powers.

Hassan Rouhani’s remarks to lawmakers follow the Iranian parliament’s move earlier this week to increase spending on the country’s ballistic missile program and the foreign operations of its paramilitary Revolutionary Guard.

The bill — and Rouhani’s comments — are seen as a direct response to the new U.S. legislation earlier this month that imposed mandatory penalties on people involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program and anyone who does business with them. The U.S. legislation also applies terrorism sanctions to the Revolutionary Guard and enforces an existing arms embargo.

If Washington continues with “threats and sanctions” against Iran, Rouhani said in parliament on Tuesday, Tehran could easily restart the nuclear program. “In an hour and a day, Iran could return to a more advanced (nuclear) level than at the beginning of the negotiations” that preceded the 2015 deal, Rouhani said.

He did not elaborate. The landmark agreement between Iran and world powers two years ago capped Iran’s uranium enrichment levels in return for the lifting of international sanctions. It was not immediately clear what Rouhani was referring to — and whether he meant Iran could restart centrifuges enriching uranium to higher and more dangerous levels.

He also offered no evidence Iran’s capability to rapidly restart higher enrichment, though Iran still has its stock of centrifuges. Those devices now churn out uranium to low levels that can range from use as reactor fuel and for medical and research purposes, but could produce the much higher levels needed for a nuclear weapon.

Iran long has insisted its atomic program is for peaceful purposes despite Western fears of it being used to make weapons. However in December, Rouhani ordered up plans on building nuclear-powered ships, something that appears to be allowed under the nuclear deal.

Rouhani’s remarks were likely an attempt to appease hard-liners at home who have demanded a tougher stand against the United States. But they are also expected to ratchet up tensions further with the Trump administration.

Iran has said the new U.S. sanctions amount to a “hostile” breach of the 2015 nuclear deal. “The U.S. has shown that it is neither a good partner nor a trustable negotiator,” Rouhani added. “Those who are trying to go back to the language of threats and sanctions are prisoners of their past hallucinations. They deprive themselves of the advantages of peace.”

But Rouhani also tempered his own threat, adding that Iran seeks to remain loyal to its commitments under the nuclear deal, which opened a “path of cooperation and confidence-building” with the world.

“The deal was a model of the victory of peace and diplomacy over war and unilateralism,” said Rouhani. “It was Iran’s preference, but it was not and will not remain Iran’s only option.”

The Iranian government is killing Al Ahwaz’s environment

Yasser Assadi

Monday 3 July 2017

Many Ahwazis – Arab inhabitants who mostly live in southern Iran’s Khuzestan Province – believe that, over the course of nearly a century, the state intentionally neglected their lands, turning them into a desert and resulting in giant sand storms that have covered their skies and killed 2,000 locals from related illnesses in recent years.

It was in 1908 that oil was discovered in the area. In 1925, Reza Khan, the Shah of Iran, invaded what was then called the emirate of Al-Ahwaz, overthrowing the Arab ruler of the region and annexed the 330,000 square-kilometer area in 1934. The lands were confiscated by the state from their original Arab owners and then transferred to the government.

Since then, the state has systematically abandoned the land and people of the area, leading the fertile land to become a small desert and a source of pollution in the region.

These days, the drinking water delivered to homes in Al-Ahwaz city is so dirty and brown in color and the cost of repairing dated water infrastructure beyond the financial capabilities of the province, residents joke that they don’t drink water. They drink chocolate milkshake.

For Ahwazis, this is just one aspect of what they feel is widespread racism. Despite the fact that they make up the majority of those living in the province, they are often unable to get jobs because employers discriminate against Ahwazi candidates.

While the state builds first-class living facilities in the province for Persian newcomers, the poverty levels in Khuzestan remain among the highest in any province in Iran, despite the existence of oil, gas and other lucrative national resources.

So in the eyes of the Ahwazis, the discovery of oil and these other resources has been no less than a scourge and an affliction that has resulted in the occupation and environmental degradation of the lands they inherited from their ancestors.

Dusty, smoky skies

Today, the Al-Ahwaz city is ranked as one of the most polluted cities in the world.

According to government reports, around 40 percent of gas which is extracted alongside oil in the province and could be used as an energy resource is actually burned off. This causes the emission of millions of tons of carbon dioxide gas in the air each year, further contributing to the air and environmental pollution already in Ahwaz as a result of the sand and dust in the air from desertification.

The Iranian regime appears to be concentrating solely on the process of extracting oil for income. Despite repeated appeals from the region’s parliamentary delegates, the Iranian regime has not even considered allocating a small percentage of the oil income made in the area to remedy the environment or build hospitals and other health institutions for the region.

In a remarkable speech last year, Ahwaz’s interim Friday prayers leader, Ayatollah Ali Heydari, warned international oil companies of excessive oil exploration in the province pointing out that they could endanger the Hor-El-Howayzeh wetlands.

He also said that excessive activity could create unprecedented security challenges in the area by triggering Ahwazi anger and confrontations with the state. It could even attract the involvement of neighboring countries who want to interfere to defend the Ahwazi.

Toxins dumped, fields burned

Oil extraction is not the only source of environmental damage in Ahwaz. The production of sugar cane in the region – which requires massive amounts of water and produces hazardous toxins when it is refined – has also harmed Alahwaz’s environment.

Not only are massive amounts of water from the Karoun River, the main source of drinking and irrigation water in the region, used in the process, but also the substances created in the refinery process are poured into the river. And the sugar cane companies set fire to the fields during harvest season, further threatening air quality and the ecosystem.

This industry, according to experts, is not economically viable for the government or the people of the region, but is purely designed to change the demographic balance of the region’s population, allowing the state to steal more Arab land.

By law, the state is allowed to take ownership of the land if resources are discovered. Owners are given two weeks notice to go to the state registry office and hand over their deeds. The state claims it will buy lands according to market value, but that rarely happens. Anyone who stands against this process is considered to be standing against the government and is heavily penalized.

The idea behind this policy goes back to the period of Mohammad Reza Shah, but it couldn’t be fully implemented at that time because of the internal instability and the eruption of the revolution. But eventually, it was implemented in 1988 by top-ranking politicians of the regime like Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the former president.

“The sugar cane project has had devastating effects on air pollution in the towns of Ahwaz and Al-Falahiya (Shadegan in Farsi) and their surrounding villages,” said Jawad Kazem Nasab, an Ahwaz city delegate in the Iranian parliament.

He added that, “the previous Iranian government had promised people of the region that it will take all measures and international standards to address these environmental risks and the collateral damage caused to the livelihood of the inhabitants of these areas”.

“However, as the delegate later confirmed, the sugar cane industry burnt its plants for economic purposes, which eventually caused even more air pollution in the region and left the lives of residents of the villages adjacent to these plantations under serious threat.”

Even the head of the environmental protection department in the province, Sayed Amid Hajti, reportedly said recently that “the oil and petrochemicals, sugar cane and other major industries in the region did not positively contribute to the lives of the people of the region, but instead increased the proportion of pollution in the air and environment”.

Dried up marshes

As a result of both the oil and sugar cane production in the region, the marshes of Hawr al-Howeyzeh and Hor al-Falahiya – which were used for fishing, wildlife conservation and helped reduce dust pollution – dried out over the past decade.

Once the marshes dried out, large sandstorms regularly occurred, disrupting the lives of people at their homes and at work and, according to some experts, causing a major increase in cases of lung infections and cancer.

Even Ahmed Reza Lahijganzadeh, the region’s environment department chief, revealed that the proportion of air pollutants is 66 times above the hazardous threshold.

“Until 12 years ago, the phenomenon of sandstorm did not exist and it came after the drying of the marshes for the purpose of oil,” said Kordawani, professor and director of the UN’s Anti-Desertification Organization.

In an interview with Tasnim New Agency, Qasim Saadi, another Ahwazi Arab MP representing Al-Khafajiyeh (Susangerd in Persian) in the Iranian parliament, criticized government policies toward the Alahwaz region by saying they are deliberate and aimed against Ahwazi Arabs. He accused the energy and agricultural ministers of staying silent about the impact of the policies.

Letting the world know

In the absence of powerful laws to protect civilians in Iran and under an autocratic system, most ethnic groups in the country are exposed to systematic discrimination and persecution. The Iranian regime should respect its own people, take its international obligations seriously and avoid violating the rights of its own people.

Although the regime repressed the media and limited correspondents only to the capital or one or two Persian cities, social media and technology has allowed us to share what is happening and let the world know.

Ahwazi Arabs would like to know that the international community will take a stance and stop the Iranian regime from committing human rights abuses against them. Ignoring or neglecting people’s demands will only fuel their confrontation with the state and lead to dangerous escalation.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/iranian-government-ruined-my-region-s-air-and-water-because-it-s-racist-681919641.

Reformists sweep Tehran municipal vote as Rouhani wins Iran

May 22, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Reformist candidates have reportedly swept municipal elections in the Iranian capital, taking all 21 seats in Tehran as moderate President Hassan Rouhani won a second term. Iranian state television reported Monday that Mohsen Hashemi Rafsanjani, a son of the influential late former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, won more than 1.7 million votes to come in first among the candidates.

The result means reformists can replace Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, who had been a presidential candidate before withdrawing to support hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi. Iranian municipal councils choose mayors and decide on budgets and development projects. Iranian media reports suggest reformists won big in other areas as well.

Rouhani, a cleric whose administration struck the 2015 landmark nuclear deal with world powers, decisively won a second term in Friday’s election.

Iran: Rouhani leads initial count; over 70 percent turnout

May 20, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran’s incumbent President Hassan Rouhani had a commanding 58 percent lead over his rivals in an initial and partial count of votes in the election, according to official figures announced Saturday morning.

Deputy Interior Minister Ali Asghar Ahmadi told journalists in a televised news conference that more than 40 million Iranians voted in Friday’s election. That puts turnout above 70 percent. The strong margin for Rouhani may be enough to give him an outright victory and avoid a two-person runoff next Friday. In 2013, Rouhani won the presidential election with nearly 51 percent of the vote. Turnout for that vote was 73 percent.

Election officials repeatedly extended voting hours until midnight to accommodate long lines of voters, some of whom said they waited hours to cast their ballots. Friday’s vote was largely a referendum on Rouhani’s more moderate political policies, which paved the way for the landmark 2015 nuclear deal that won Iran relief from some sanctions in exchange for curbs on its nuclear program.

The 68-year-old has come to embody more liberal and reform-minded Iranians’ hopes for greater political freedom at home and better relations with the outside world. Preliminary vote tallies have him ahead with 14.6 million votes, out of 25.1 million counted so far.

His nearest challenger is hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, with 10.1 million votes. The two other candidates left in the race, Mostafa Mirsalim, a former culture minister, and Mostafa Hashemitaba, a pro-reform figure who previously ran for president in 2001, respectively have 297,000 and 139,000 votes each.

Iran has no credible political polling to serve as harder metrics for the street buzz around candidates, who need more than 50 percent of the vote to seal victory and avoid a runoff. Iran’s president is the second-most powerful figure within Iran’s political system. He is subordinate to the country’s supreme leader, who is chosen by a clerical panel and has the ultimate say over all matters of state.

It is still a powerful post. The president oversees a vast state bureaucracy employing more than 2 million people, is charged with naming Cabinet members and other officials to key posts, and plays a significant role in shaping both domestic and foreign policy.

All candidates for elected office must be vetted, a process that excludes anyone calling for radical change, along with most reformists. No woman has ever been approved to run for president. Ahmadi said the Interior Ministry hopes to have final results later Saturday.

Iranians turn out in large numbers for closely watched vote

May 20, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Millions of Iranians voted late into the night Friday to decide whether incumbent President Hassan Rouhani deserves another four years in office after securing a landmark nuclear deal, or if the sluggish economy demands a new hard-line leader who could return the country to a more confrontational path with the West.

The Islamic Republic’s first presidential election since the 2015 nuclear accord drew surprisingly large numbers of voters to polling stations, with some reporting waiting in line for hours to cast their votes. Election officials extended voting hours at least three times at the more than 63,000 polling places to accommodate the crowds.

Four candidates remain in the race. But for most voters only two mattered, both of them clerics with very different views for the country’s future: Rouhani and hard-line law professor and former prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi.

Rouhani is a political moderate by Iranian standards, but the 68-year-old has come to embody more liberal and reform-minded Iranians’ hopes for greater political freedom at home and better relations with the outside world.

His supporters are also hoping he can make better progress on improving the economy, a key issue on the minds of the country’s 56 million eligible voters. Many say they are yet to see the benefits of the nuclear deal, which saw Iran limit its contested nuclear program over the objection of hard-liners in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful man in Iran, symbolically cast the election’s first vote. He called for a large turnout, saying “the country is in the hands of all people.” In Tehran, whose liberal and affluent voters form the bedrock of support for Rouhani, lines at some precincts were much longer than those in his 2013 win. Analysts have suggested a high turnout will aid Rouhani in securing a second four-year term.

“I am happy I could vote for Rouhani,” said Zohreh Amini, a 21-year-old woman studying painting at Tehran Azad University. “He kept the shadow of war far from our country.” Voters who spoke to The Associated Press from the cities of Bandar Abbas, Hamadan, Isfahan, Rashat, Shiraz and Tabriz also described crowded polling places.

The turnout may have spooked Raisi’s camp, who filed a complaint to authorities over what they called “election violations” even before the polls closed, according to a report by the semi-official Tasnim news agency.

Tehran Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani urged voters to elect someone who won’t be a “hostage” to Western governments and their culture. “The next president should not be someone who makes the enemies happy when he is elected,” said Kermani, who is an adviser to Khamenei.

Rouhani has history on his side in the election. No incumbent president has failed to win re-election since 1981, when Khamenei himself became president. The 56-year-old Raisi, who heads an influential religious charitable foundation with vast business holdings, is seen by many as close to Khamenei. Raisi has even been discussed as a possible successor, though Khamenei has stopped short of endorsing anyone.

Raisi won the support of two major clerical bodies and promised to boost welfare payments to the poor. His populist posture, anti-corruption rhetoric and get-tough reputation — bolstered by his alleged role condemning inmates to death during Iran’s 1988 mass execution of thousands of political prisoners — hold appeal for conservative rural and working-class voters.

“Rouhani has turned our foreign policies into a mess and damaged our religion,” said Sedigheh Davoodabadi, a 59-year-old housewife in Iran’s holy city of Qom who voted for Raisi. “Rouhani gave everything to the U.S. outright” in the nuclear deal.

Both candidates urged voters to respect the outcome of the vote. Mostafa Hashemitaba, a pro-reform figure who previously ran for president in 2001, and Mostafa Mirsalim, a former culture minister, also remain in the race.

Iranians overseas were also voting in over 300 locations, including 55 in the U.S., where more than 1 million Iranians live. Hard-liners remain suspicious of America, decades after the 1953 U.S.-engineered coup that toppled Iran’s prime minister and the 1979 U.S. Embassy takeover and hostage crisis in Tehran. President Donald Trump’s tougher stance on Iran has stoked concern as well, though his administration this week took a key step toward preserving the Obama-era nuclear deal.

Iran’s political system combines conservative clerical oversight and state control over large parts of the economy with tightly regulated but still hotly contested elections for key government posts. All candidates for elected office must be vetted, a process that excludes anyone calling for radical change, along with most reformists. No woman has ever been approved to run for president.

The president of the Islamic Republic oversees a vast state bureaucracy employing more than 2 million people, is charged with naming Cabinet members and other officials to key posts, and plays a significant role in shaping both domestic and foreign policy. But he remains subordinate to the supreme leader, who is chosen by a clerical panel and has the ultimate say over all matters of state.

The race has heated emotions and pushed public discourse in Iran into areas typically untouched in the tightly controlled state media. That includes Rouhani openly criticizing hard-liners and Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force now involved in the war in Syria and the fight against Islamic State militants in neighboring Iraq. Rouhani also found his vehicle besieged by angry coal miners during a visit to a northern mine struck by a deadly explosion earlier this month.

But authorities worry about tempers rising too high, especially after the 2009 disputed re-election of former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that saw unrest, mass arrests and killings. Authorities barred Ahmadinejad from running in Friday’s election, and Khamenei warned this week that anyone fomenting unrest “will definitely be slapped in the face.”

That hasn’t stopped those at Rouhani rallies from shouting for the release of the house-arrested leaders of the 2009 Green Movement. Opposition websites have said Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi both have endorsed Rouhani against Raisi. Rouhani promised in his 2013 campaign to free the men, but that pledge so far remains unfulfilled.

Mohammad Khatami, another reformist who served as Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005, also has endorsed Rouhani and received a raucous welcome when he voted, according to a clip shared on social media.

Iranian authorities say they believe the vote will exceed a 70 percent turnout.

Associated Press journalists Amir Vahdat in Tehran, Iran, Ebrahim Noroozi in Qom, Iran, and Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

Polls open in first Iran presidential vote since atomic deal

May 19, 2017

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iranians began voting Friday in the country’s first presidential election since its nuclear deal with world powers, as incumbent Hassan Rouhani faced a staunch challenge from a hard-line opponent over his outreach to the West.

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. Economic issues also will be on the minds of Iran’s over 56 million eligible voters as they head to more than 63,000 polling places across the country. The average Iranian has yet to see the benefits of the deal, which saw Iran limit its contested nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the most powerful man in Iran, symbolically cast the election’s first vote and called on Iranians to turn out in huge numbers for the poll. “Elections are very important and the fate of the country is in the hands of all people,” he said.

After casting his ballot, Rouhani said whomever the voters elect as president should receive all of the nation’s support. “Any candidate who is elected should be helped to accomplish this heavy responsibility,” Rouhani said. “Anyone who is elected must be helped from tomorrow with unity, happiness and joy.”

Rouhani has history on his side in the election. No incumbent president has failed to win re-election since 1981, when Khamenei became president himself. That doesn’t mean it will be easy, however. Rouhani faces three challengers, the strongest among them hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56.

Raisi, a law professor and former prosecutor who heads an influential religious charitable foundation with vast business holdings, is seen by many as close to Khamenei. Raisi has even been discussed as a possible successor to him, though Khamenei has stopped short of endorsing anyone.

Raisi won the support of two major clerical bodies and promised to boost welfare payments to the poor. His populist posture, anti-corruption rhetoric and get-tough reputation — bolstered by his alleged role condemning inmates to death during Iran’s 1988 mass execution of thousands of political prisoners — are likely to energize conservative rural and working-class voters.

Mostafa Hashemitaba, a pro-reform figure who previously ran for president in 2001, and Mostafa Mirsalim, a former culture minister, also remain in the race. Iran’s political system combines conservative clerical oversight and state control over large parts of the economy with tightly regulated but still hotly contested elections for key government posts. All candidates for elected office must be vetted, a process that excludes anyone calling for radical change, along with most reformists. No woman has been approved to run for president.

The president of the Islamic Republic oversees a vast state bureaucracy, is charged with naming cabinet members and other officials to key posts, and plays a significant role in shaping both domestic and foreign policy. But he remains subordinate to the supreme leader, who is chosen by a clerical panel and has the ultimate say over all matters of state.

The race has heated emotions and pushed public discourse in Iran into areas typically untouched in the tightly controlled state media. That includes Rouhani openly criticizing hard-liners and Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force now involved in the war in Syria and the fight against Islamic State militants in neighboring Iraq. Rouhani also found himself surrounded by angry coal miners who beat and threw rocks at his armored SUV during a visit to a northern mine struck by an explosion earlier this month that killed at least 42 people.

But authorities worry about tempers rising too high, especially after the 2009 disputed re-election of former hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that saw unrest, mass arrests and killings. Authorities barred Ahmadinejad from running in Friday’s election, and Khamenei days ago warned anyone fomenting unrest “will definitely be slapped in the face.”

That hasn’t stopped those at Rouhani rallies from shouting for the house-arrested leaders of the 2009’s Green Movement. Opposition websites have said Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi both have endorsed Rouhani against Raisi. Rouhani promised in his 2013 campaign to free the men, but that pledge so far remains unfulfilled.

Mohammad Khatami, another reformist who served as Iran’s president from 1997 to 2005, also has endorsed Rouhani. Supporters of the two leading candidates honked, blared music and held pictures of the hopefuls out of car windows on the traffic-clogged and heavily policed streets of Tehran late into the night Thursday, ignored a ban on campaigning in the final 24 hours before the vote.

Voting is scheduled to run until 6 p.m., though Iran routinely extends voting for several hours in elections. Iranian authorities say they believe the vote will exceed a 70 percent turnout.

Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

Tag Cloud