Heavy turnout extended voting in Iran, making Rafsanjani's chances better

Iranians showed a heavy turnout packing polling stations Friday in a tight presidential race between a well-known moderate cleric, who became the default choice for reformists, and a hard-liner seeking to reclaim the values of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Voting was extended by one hour 8 p.m. (1530 GMT), says AP.

The winner of last week's first round, Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, has received a flood of support from liberal reformers, ayatollahs and big business, who forgot about their differences trying to stop his radical rival. In the first round Rafsanjani stumbled to first place with just 21 percent of the vote - well short of predictions, writes AP.

Right behind was Ahmadinejad with about 19.5 percent - forcing Iran's first presidential run-off as no candidate got the 50 percent required for victory.

The former president Rafasanjani promises to continue the social liberalization and to "to defend efficiently the human rights". His voters belong principally to the upper and middle social classes. According to AP, Rafsanjani also portrays himself as the best hand to guide the sensitive nuclear talks with the West and is preferred by US in this round.

Ahmadinejad, 49, the mayor of Tehran, contrasts his humble populist style with shots of the villa of a previous mayor. "What we need is justice," he said. His list of promises targets Iran's underclass: higher wages, more development funds for rural areas, expanded health insurance and more social benefits for women, writes Independent. The focus of his campaign is the oil wealth distribution, an issue that helped trigger the 1979 revolution and brought people on to the streets in the Fifties to support the nationalization of the then British-owned oil industry. "When the oil price was $8 (Ј4.40) a barrel, we were poor. Then it rose to $20 and we were still poor. Now it's more than $50 and nothing's improved," said a bazaar trader and supporter of Mr Ahmadinejad, cited by Independent. Ahmidenijad's supporters blame Rafsanjani for "the moral corruption and unemployment." According to AP, for the nuclear talks, Ahmadinejad is expected to introduce a new team that could include some of Iran's most anti-Western clerics. Ahmadinejad told at a news conference last week he could not foresee improved ties with any country that "seeks hostility" against Iran, a clear reference to the United States.

Latest polls suggest the two candidates are running neck and neck. Everything depends on the voter's participation. Experts believe that the higher participation will favor Rafsanjani. First results are expected early Saturday.

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