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Middle East

Iranians urged to defy opposition call for boycott

Iranians go to the polls today for the first time since the controversial 2009 presidential elections that were mired in accusations of fraud, setting off huge protests and a bloody crackdown.

With opposition and pro-reform groups calling for a boycott, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and other politicians have embarked on a campaign imploring people to vote in order to give the parliamentary polls a veneer of credibility. The vote to elect 290 members of the Islamic Consultative Assembly, Iran's parliament, comes against the backdrop of a tense stand-off between Tehran and the international community over Iran's nuclear programme.

"A vibrant election will give the enemy a strong punch in the mouth," Ayatollah Khamenei said at a gathering this week, according to state-run Mehr News Agency.

Claims of vote rigging following President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's re-election in 2009 sparked the country's largest protests since the 1979 Islamic Revolution. Opposition groups have been marginalised since and annecdotally, there appeared to be little enthusiasm about today's ballot.

"I won't bother voting again, said Alireza, a physics graduate from Tehran University. "My vote in 2009 brought no changes. Our protests didn't change anything."

With prominent opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi still under house arrest, the election will essentially be a contest between supporters of President Ahmadinejad and those aligned to Ayatollah Khamenei, who have been involved in a behind-the-scenes power struggle.