Iran holds partial recount to quell claims of abuses

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The Independent Online

Iran's electoral authorities have moved to dispel accusations of vote-rigging in Friday's presidential election by ordering a partial recount of the vote and cracking down on two pro-reform newspapers which attempted to publish allegations of malpractice.

The reformist Eqbal daily was given a 24-hour ban when it tried to publish in full a letter written to the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khameni, in which the third-placed candidate detailed charges of electoral fraud by hardliners.

Reformist journalists say newspapers were warned not to publish the whole letter by the office of the Tehran prosecutor general, Said Mortazavi, the judge accused of helping to cover up the death of the photojournalist Zahra Kazemi in 2003. One paper decided not to publish at all, while Eqbal was not allowed to be distributed. Others were cowed into printing less controversial extracts.

The disputed election has resulted in a second round run-off between the former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and the fundamentalist Tehran mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who made a surprisingly strong showing.

The letter, by the former parliament speaker and moderate reformist Mehdi Karoubi, protested against the involvement of the Basij militia and Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps in voting. He had earlier questioned the propriety of the Guardian Council's announcement of voting results as they came in.

The clerical body is mandated to ensure that elections comply with constitutional requirements, but Mr Karoubi said it broke the law during the count by releasing figures that gave a sudden boost of 1 million votes to Mr Ahmadinejad. The conservative reached this Friday's second round with about 700,00 votes more than Mr Karoubi.

The white-bearded ally of President Mohammad Khatami surged unexpectedly in the poll, scoring high gains in rural areas with the promise to pay Iranians £30 a month from energy savings. But he cried foul as Mr Ahmadinejad drew ahead, claiming to have taped proof of fraud. He said some votes had been bought and that the military had been illegally involved in voter mobilisation. Mr Karoubi also alleged that faked identity cards were distributed among conservative supporters, allowing them to vote more than once.

The Guardian Council yesterday ordered a recount of 100 boxes taken at random from the cities in which Mr Ahmadinejad won the most votes. However that is unlikely to satisfy reformists, because they believe the tampering did not include miscounting of votes. The conservative has denied any irregularities and dismissed the claims as evidence that Mr Karoubi is a bad loser.

All pro-reformist groups have now swung their support reluctantly behind the éminence grise of Iranian politics, the former president Mr Rafsanjani.

The strength of Mr Ahmadinejad's support among poor Iranians came as a shock to the reformists, who now recognise that a fundamentalist victory is very possible.

Mr Rafsanjani has himself appealed for votes from all groups to the left of Mr Ahmadinejad. "I seek your help and ask you to be present in the second round of the election so that we can prevent extremism," he said in a press statement.

In a statement issued late on Sunday night, the main reformist party, the Islamic Iran Participation Front, instructed supporters to "not remain indifferent" to the race, without mentioning Mr Rafsanjani by name.

Student groups who supported the reformists have also rallied behind the former president, once considered a hate-figure among students and still mistrusted for his administration's constriction of free speech.