Thursday, June 16, 2005

Top News Article | Iran's presidential race ends with blast from Bush

Top News Article | "Iran's presidential race ends with blast from Bush
Thu Jun 16, 2005 03:35 PM ET
By Edmund Blair
TEHRAN (Reuters) - The United States blasted Iran's electoral process on Thursday as a presidential campaign ended with moderate cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in front but unlikely to win in the first round of a vote.

Friday's vote contested by seven hopefuls could determine the fate of Iran's nuclear stand-off with the West and ties with arch-foe the United States, dubbed the "Great Satan" in Iran.

But whoever wins, real power in the country will still rest with conservative, anti-West religious authorities.

President Bush criticized Iran's election process in which more than 1,000 would-be candidates were barred from running by the hardline Guardian Council supervisory body. Eight were allowed to stand, but one hard-liner has quit.

"Power is in the hands of an unelected few who have retained power through an electoral process that ignores the basic requirements of democracy," Bush said in a statement.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi denounced Bush's remarks as "baseless" on state television.

"In Iran we have candidates from different tendencies while in America there are two candidates, from Republicans or Democrats. Bush is not worried about democracy in Iran. His remarks are based on hostility and enmity," Asefi said.

About 300 people protested against the Islamic system in central Tehran, the semi-official ILNA news agency said. It said some were arrested because the demonstration was illegal.

Opinion polls indicate Rafsanjani, 70, who wants better ties with the West, will not win the 50 percent support he needs to avoid a deciding vote with his nearest challenger, possibly on June 24.

"The election ... is one of the most unpredictable in the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran ... All pundits believe that the president will be elected in the second round," the reformist Etemad daily said."