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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Islamists Face Reformers in Iran Vote

TEHRAN -- Iranians voted Friday in run-off parliamentary polls after a heated contest pitting strict Islamists against centrists seeking economic reform.

Voters streamed to polls in the Gulf's most populous country hours after a last-minute appeal by conservative officials that Iranians ignore liberal candidates with suspicious foreign links, an apparent reference to their moderate opponents.

"I chose those who are pious and work hard for the people," said engineer Ramazan Ali Islami emerging from a voting station in a tree-lined street in bright spring weather. "I support our country and religion. Only rich people follow liberals."

The conservative Combatant Clergy Association, which is made up of the winners of 1992 elections for the 270-seat assembly, wants to retain the values of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

But they face a tough electoral challenge from economic reformist supporters of President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in a grouping known as the Servants of Iran's Construction.

One newspaper described the campaign as a mud-slinging contest, with banners defaced and a mutual outpouring of vitriol.

"Religious people are not enough. We need educated people," said a housewife who declined to give her name, adding, "Of course the best is to have both kinds."

She said: "Although the political differences are real, we want contacts with the world. We want to be brothers and sisters with the world."

Voters were choosing between 246 candidates for the 123 assembly seats that remained undecided after the first round on March 8. A 10-hour voting period is usually extended for latecomers, and officials say voting is a religious duty.

Officials say there was an 80 percent turnout in the first round. Results in a further 14 races were disqualified because of alleged irregularities.

The 14 will be contested again in by-elections later this year. Results of Friday's voting are expected to be announced within a week.

Ahmad Jannati, spokesman of the conservative Guardian Council, warned voters to ignore any liberal who did not truly support the 17-year-old revolution's theocratic principles.

"Such people can easily be bought by the enemies," he said, using terms normally applied to the United States and Israel.

The Guardian Council of clerics and lawyers supervises parliament, which is elected every four years.

Liberal is a derogatory term in Iranian politics normally applied to anyone wanting better ties with Washington.

Analysts said Jannati's statement appeared aimed at moderate groups seeking greater internal political and social freedoms and a limited easing of Iran's international isolation.

The campaign has had little detailed debate of major issues. Opinion polls have been scarce and some commentators have reported signs of apathy on the part of many in the electorate.

Members of the small opposition secular nationalist Iran Nation Party, individual activists and many exiled opposition groups called for a boycott of the election.