World Bulletin / News Desk
Iranians poured into polling stations on Friday to deliver their verdict on President Hassan Rouhani and his troubled efforts to rebuild ties with the world and kickstart the struggling economy.
There was a festive atmosphere in Tehran where Rouhani, a 68-year-old moderate cleric who spearheaded a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, was mobbed by cheering supporters as he cast his ballot in a mosque in the city centre.
Rouhani has sought to frame the vote as a choice between greater civil liberties and "extremism".
But he faces stiff competition from hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56, who has positioned himself as a defender of the poor and called for a much tougher line with the West.
"We must all respect the vote of the people," Raisi said as he cast his ballot in southern Tehran.
He has targeted working-class voters hit by high unemployment and subsidy cuts, as well as those who worry the values of the 1979 revolution are under threat.
"His main focus is deprived people and he wants to fight corruption," said Mohsen, a 32-year-old Raisi supporter.
"Rouhani did a lot of work that I praise him for, but we cannot rely on foreigners. Our country is surrounded by enemies -- if we don't strengthen our domestic situation, we will be harmed."
Rouhani's central achievement was a deal with six powers led by the United States that eased crippling economic sanctions in exchange for curbs to Iran's nuclear programme.
His opponent says he will stick by the nuclear deal, but points to a persistent economic slump as evidence Rouhani's diplomatic efforts have failed.
"Instead of using the capable hands of our young people to resolve problems, they are putting our economy in the hands of foreigners," Raisi said at a closing campaign rally in second city Mashhad on Wednesday.
Rouhani says hardliners must be kept away from Iran's diplomatic levers at a delicate moment in relations with the United States.
"One wrong decision by the president can mean war," he warned this week.
Rouhani gained a reprieve on Wednesday when Washington agreed to continue waiving nuclear-related sanctions, keeping the deal on track for now.
But US President Donald Trump has launched a 90-day review of the accord that could see it abandoned, and is visiting Iran's bitter regional rival Saudi Arabia this weekend.
Some interesting facts about Muslim nations and the players in this year’s competition.
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