Heavy security in Tehran as campaigning starts for Iran's May presidential vote

Fri Apr 21, 2017 7:31am EDT
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By Parisa Hafezi

ANKARA (Reuters) - Campaigning officially started on Friday for Iran's May presidential election, pitting pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani against hardliners just as the United States reassesses its policy on the Islamic Republic.

A hardline watchdog body in charge of vetting candidates and laws, the Guardian Council, approved six candidates on Thursday for the May 19 vote - including Rouhani - but hardline former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was disqualified.

A witness who was near Ahmadinejad's house in eastern Tehran on Thursday night told Reuters that "around 50 police officers had blocked two ends of the street to his house to prevent possible gathering of his supporters".

Iranian police fanned out across Tehran's main squares overnight after the names of the candidates were announced, according to videos posted on social media.

Ahmadinejad, an adversary of the West during his time on power, surprised Iran's clerical establishment by registering as a candidate, defying Iran's top authority Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's warning not to enter the race.

His re-election in 2009 ignited an eight-month firestorm of street protests. His pro-reform rivals said the vote was rigged.

Supporters of the six successful candidates had started campaigning on social media last week. Iran blocks access to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube but millions of Iranians use virtual private networks (VPNs) to access those sites.

Iran's top leaders regard the election in part as a show of defiance against renewed U.S. pressure under President Donald Trump, and have called for a high turnout to strengthen the clerical establishment's legitimacy.   Continued...

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani registers to run for a second four-year term in the May election, in Tehran, Iran, April 14, 2017. President.ir/Handout via REUTERS