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Iran's former president promises to respect vote

By Jonathan Lyons

TEHRAN, Feb 25 (Reuters) - Former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, his political fate in the balance amid a dispute over election returns, pledged on Friday to respect the result of the vote.

Rafsanjani, standard-bearer for the establishment in polls largely swept by reformers close to President Mohammad Khatami, was clinging to one of the last of Tehran's 30 seats yet to declare, according to one unofficial count.

But the interior ministry has refused to certify the tally, citing reports of vote-rigging in south Tehran, a traditionalist stronghold and likely Rafsanjani power base.

Rafsanjani told worshipers at Tehran's Friday prayers that the big turnout proved the enduring strength of the Islamic revolution, and he warned the United States not to expect concessions from Iran in the wake of the reformist win.

``With regard to myself, I must thank those who trusted me and voted for me, and I respect those who did not want to vote for me and decided to vote for others. Their ideas and their votes must be respected.

``Those who came to this field but did not win votes must not be worried, because serving the nation is not limited to being in parliament and there are many (other) arenas,'' said Rafsanjani, a pragmatic cleric and once Iran's most powerful politician.


Elections officials on Thursday delayed the planned release of final poll results for Tehran, citing allegations of vote-rigging in the tight race.

Officials told Reuters they were investigating charges of ballot stuffing in connection with 100 ballot boxes, out of a total of 3,111 across the city. Another 100 boxes had yet to be counted, they said.

With almost all votes counted, reformists backing Khatami had a firm grip on the top 27 places and were leading in the race for another two seats -- an improvement on an already strong showing in the provinces.

But the fate of Rafsanjani, the only obstacle to a reformist sweep of the capital, was unresolved, and it appeared he may have trouble reaching the 25-percent threshold needed to enter parliament in the first round.

Complicating the count was the dual nature of authority for the polls, divided between the reformist government's interior ministry and the conservative clerics who dominate the Guardian Council.

Elections monitors say interior ministry supervisors have refused to sign off on results from the disputed districts, despite approval of the balloting by representatives of the Guardian Council.

Failure to resolve the dispute could force a new election, although analysts said that was unlikely and a compromise was expected.

The row has also threatened to split the reformist coalition, with yougner activists keen to see Rafsanjani excluded from parliament and political veterans aware of the dangers of antagonising the powerful establishment he represents.

Rafsanjani also warned Washington not to see the pro-reform victory as a repudiation of Tehran's hardline on any resumption of ties with its former ally.

``Iran's foreign policy and issues pertaining to Islam are stable and immutable,'' he said.

Washington broke off ties with Tehran in the wake of the 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy by militant students. A recent thaw launched by Khatami has so far failed to lead to anything like a political breakthrough.



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