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Iranians Go To Polls In Runoff

An Iranian woman writes the name of Iranian presidential candidate Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, on her ballot in the presidential run-off election, in Tehran, Iran, Friday June 24, 2005. Iranians voted Friday in their first presidential runoff, torn between a well-known political moderate and his hard-line rival who says the nation must reclaim the values of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. (AP Photo/Hasan Sarbakhshian)
AP
Iranians voted Friday in their first presidential runoff, the climax of a hard-fought campaign that left the Islamic state at a crossroads between a well-known political moderate and his ultraconservative rival.

The election was considered too close to predict. First results were expected early Saturday.

The first round winner, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, had strong support from progressive and business groups. His surprise opponent, Tehran's hard-line mayor Mahoud Ahmadinejad, was backed by Iran's impoverished classes and powerful forces opposed to relaxing Iran's Islamic regime.

"This is the beginning of a new movement," Ahmadinejad declared after casting his ballot.

Early turnout appeared strong. About 63 percent of Iran's nearly 47 million voters cast ballots in the first round.

Election overseers warned the elite Revolutionary Guards and its vigilante wings, both key Ahmadinejad followers, to stay clear of polling sites following accusations of intimidation and other abuses in last Friday's balloting.

The two rivals represent a distinct vision and voice for a nation struggling to find its priorities. The race also exposed the estrangement between those who feel empowered and those who feel embittered by Western-friendly reforms that began in the late 1990s.