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Polls open in first Iran presidential vote since atomic deal

Polls open in first Iran presidential vote since atomic deal

Polls opened in Iran on Friday with voters set to give their verdict on President Hassan Rouhani's policy of opening up to the world and efforts to rebuild the stagnant economy. But a powerful body called the Guardian Council, closely overseen by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, winnows down the field.

Long queues formed at polling stations around the country after a short but gripping campaign that has again captivated the nation of 80 million. "Today, we did our duty towards the betterment of our country even though we don't live there", said Kiana, who is in her 20s and lives in Bengaluru with her husband.Her husband Ali Ghobadi said, "Unless we participate in this democratic process, we will have no right to criticise and critique the elected president". "Anyone who is elected must be helped from tomorrow with unity, happiness and joy". "He will protect our Islamic identity", said Mehran Fardoust, 36, a shopkeeper near the Imam Reza Shrine, in the holy city of Mashhad, Raisi's hometown.

It will not have escaped Mr Rouhani, however, that Mr Trump is visiting Iran's closest rival Saudi Arabia shortly and that the US President has also ordered a review of the controversial nuclear deal.

"We are still not pleased with the situation, but in the four years of Rouhani there has been a relative improvement and I'm voting to keep that", said Alireza Nikpour, a 40-year-old photographer in Tehran.

Raisi says he will stick by the nuclear deal, but points to a persistent economic slump as evidence Rouhani's diplomatic efforts have failed.

Analysts have rejected Raisi's promises of jobs and cash handouts as unrealistic but admit these could win traction with voters who have felt few benefits so far from the nuclear deal.

Iranians overseas also will vote in over 300 locations, including 55 in the USA, where more than one million Iranians live. Rouhani also found himself surrounded by angry coal miners who beat and threw rocks at his armored SUV during a visit to a northern mine struck by an explosion earlier this month that killed at least 42 people.

Two other conservative candidates are still officially in the race. Opposition websites have said Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi both have endorsed Rouhani against Raisi.

Rouhani hit back in a sharper campaign strategy to mobilise Iranian women and young people who became jaded about the vote after losing hope in his ability to ease religious repression in society as promised in 2013, when he won by a landslide.

On Tuesday, Iran's reformist Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri announced his withdrawal from the race in order to back incumbent President Hassan Rouhani, urging all his supporters to vote for Rouhani.

Supporters of the two leading candidates honked, blared music and held pictures of the hopefuls out of auto windows on the traffic-clogged and heavily policed streets of Tehran late into the night Thursday, ignoring a ban on campaigning in the final 24 hours before the vote.

Authorities say the number of eligible voters stands at above 56,400,000, more than 1,350,000 of whom are allowed to vote for the first time.