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Moderates, Reformers Appear to Have Lead in Iranian Vote

<i> Associated Press</i>

Political moderates and reformers apparently led hard-liners in early returns Saturday from Iran’s first democratic municipal elections since 1979.

An election official at the Interior Ministry estimated that up to 60% of the 40 million eligible voters cast ballots. He spoke on condition of anonymity.

The heavy polling Friday demonstrated broad interest in a contest that could boost reformist allies of President Mohammad Khatami in the power struggle against hard-liners.

About 330,000 candidates ran for 200,000 municipal seats.

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Interior Minister Abdul Vahed Musavi-Lari said the votes could take a week to count, especially in large cities.

The independent Jahan-e-Islam daily quoted unnamed election officials as saying pro-Khatami candidates were the front-runners in early results from several cities.

An informal poll indicated that Khatami loyalist and former Interior Minister Abdullah Nouri was the first choice of many voters in Tehran.

In the northern city of Rasht, Khatami allies also appeared to be ahead, said an election official who insisted on anonymity.

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