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Saturday, 9 June, 2001, 07:52 GMT 08:52 UK Khatami heads for crushing victory

Women turned out to vote in large numbers Early returns from Iran's presidential election suggest an overwhelming mandate for the reformist incumbent, Mohammad Khatami.

With nine million ballots counted so far, Mr Khatami has secured around 79% of the vote - an even higher proportion than in his 1997 landslide victory.

Mr Khatami's supporters are hoping he wins the massive victory he needs to strengthen his hand against the hardliners who have been blocking his social and political reforms.

The exact turnout has yet to be announced, but polling booths stayed open for up to five hours longer than planned to allow long queues of electors to register their votes.

People were still being turned away when they closed at midnight (1930 GMT).

Ex-pat vote

In Washington, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the high turnout demonstrated a longing for change.

"The turnout in large numbers seems to indicate that there's a great desire for freedom, for openness, for the rule of law, for better lives for the Iranian people and their children," he said.

"It's our hope that those voices will be heard and that the wishes of the voters be respected."

Some of the earliest returns were from Iranian expatriates, who overwhelmingly backed Mr Khatami.

Full results are not expected for several days.

Most of the other nine candidates are moderate conservatives - one of them, Ahmed Tavakoli, has been taking around 15% of the vote. All the others are far behind.

Votes for reform

If Mr Khatami does get more than the 20 million votes he received in the last elections, he will be in a stronger position to implement his reform programme.

This faces opposition from hardliners, including Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who controls the armed forces, appoints the judiciary chief and the head of the state broadcasting monopoly.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Teheran says Mr Khatami will be able to argue that this time, because there was no major hardline candidate running against him, the votes he received are votes for reform, not simply anti-establishment.

Mr Khatami has campaigned for greater freedom and democracy - the same slogans he used in the 1997 election in which he was swept to power.

His opponents have mainly focused on the state of the economy.

Our correspondent says some disputes have broken out over alleged voting irregularities but Mr Khatami's aides are hoping that his margin of victory is so great that nobody will seriously dispute the result.


Thursday, 28 June, 2001, 16:38 GMT 17:38 UK
Iran rejects political rights bill

Iran's reformists are struggling to effect change By Jim Muir in Tehran

A parliamentary bill in Iran, aimed at defining political crimes and conditions for political prisoners, has been rejected by the conservative body which vets the country's legislation.

The Council of Guardians said the bill, which was drawn up by the reformist-dominated parliament last month, was in conflict with Iran's Islamic laws, and with the constitution.

The council took issue with 15 of the 24 clauses in the new bill.

A few of the objections were of a minor technical nature, where amendment might be possible.

But most of them were on key issues, which makes it highly unlikely that parliament will be able to re-submit the bill in any acceptable form.

There was disagreement over some aspects of defining political crime in the first place.

Open trials

The bill also tried to insist that all political crimes should be tried in open court before a jury.

This was vetoed on the grounds that it would eliminate a special religious court, which has tried dissident clerics behind closed doors.

There was also disagreement over the fundamental role of a jury.

The bill said it should decide innocence or guilt, but the council ruled that it should simply advise the judge, who is currently all powerful in Iranian courts.

In the likely event of the council vetoing an amended version of this bill, the dispute would then go automatically to a third body, the Expediency Council, for arbitration.