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Amid protest, expatriates take part in Iran’s election

As scores of expatriates showed up at a designated West Los Angeles polling station Friday to cast ballots in Iran’s presidential election, a small group of demonstrators protested outside and denounced them for helping to legitimize “a fascist regime.”

Maryam Ariannejad, 35, who was among those who voted at the Westin Los Angeles Airport hotel polling station on Century Boulevard, said she cast her vote in support of the people of Iran, who were being given a chance to exercise their civil rights and possibly choose a new leader.

“It’s a huge step toward democracy,” said Ariannejad, who arrived in the U.S. 12 years ago. “Democracy doesn’t happen overnight.”

Although she acknowledged the protesters’ right to demonstrate, Ariannejad said that “they need to understand that the first step toward democracy is respecting people’s ideas and opinions.”

About two dozen protesters stood on a curb outside the hotel, waving pre-Islamic Revolution Iranian flags and posters that said “No More Theocracy” and “Secularism for Iran.” They said that neither Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad nor his chief reformist rival, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, was a legitimate candidate and that the election was a fraud.

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After initial reports said that Ahmadinejad had won re-election with 69% of the vote, demonstrator Roozbeh Farahanipour, 37, said, “We told you the elections didn’t mean a thing.”

Another demonstrator, Nasrin Mohammadi, 32, said her brother Akbar, a student, had been jailed for seven years in Iran before being executed for speaking out against the government. She said she did not trust the country’s political leaders.

“They are terrorists,” said Mohammadi, who arrived in the U.S. five years ago. “They are killing people every day.”

The Iranian election was open to expatriates, including Iranian Americans, and more than two dozen polling stations were set up across the United States. Security was tight at the Westin hotel near LAX and reporters were barred from entering the venue.

Soussan Arfaania, an Iranian American community leader, said the decision to set up a polling station at the Westin was made at the last minute after other hotels pulled out or were unwilling to accommodate the electioneers.

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ann.simmons@latimes.com


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