Saturday, June 11, 2005

Iran's hardline cleric urges high turnout

A leading hardline cleric urged Iranians on Friday to turn out in force for presidential elections next week, warning that a low turnout would be a defeat for the Islamic republic.

Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati refrained from endorsing any of the eight men vying for the job in June 17 polls, but called on people to defy Iran's "enemies" by ensuring a high turnout.

"The prestige of the Islamic republic depends on your votes. It is our religious and political duty to vote," Jannati told worshippers at Friday prayers at Tehran University. "Your votes will make the country stronger."

The clerical establishment has been trying to overcome apathy and disillusionment among voters, particularly young Iranians, over the slow pace of President Mohammad Khatami's reforms since his landslide election wins in 1997 and 2001.

Khatami is barred from standing for a third consecutive term.

Half the country's 67 million people are under 25 and the minimum voting age is 15. But many have indicated they will not vote.

Jannati said the country's enemies, a reference to the United States, had been trying to discourage Iranian voters through the "bombardment of hostile propaganda," aimed at questioning the Islamic states' legitimacy.

"If you want to make America angry, make queues at voting booths," Jannati said.

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