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Iran presidential polls: Counting underway

Iran presidential polls: Counting underway

Rouhani won the 2013 election amid promises to expand freedom of speech and strengthen the country's economy, but this year's election will be a test of that vision's popularity among voters.

The agency claimed that presidential election exit polls until afternoon suggest that the reformist candidate Hassan Rouhani enjoys the lead in 12 Iranian provinces while Ebrahim Raisi, representing the conservative camp, is ahead in the poll in 15 provinces.

The Interior Ministry reported that 40 million ballots were cast out of 56 million registered voters, representing a 70 percent turnout, similar to the 2013 elections which brought Rouhani to power. More than 54 million people are eligible to vote.

Reportedly so far over 32 million Iranians have voted in election, which means about a 57 percent turnout.

Polls close at 6:00pm (1330 GMT), although authorities often extend voting into the evening.

Ahmadi said the Interior Ministry expects to announce final results later Saturday.

Concurrently, the 5th City and Village Councils elections are being held across the country.

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Iranian state television declared incumbent President Hassan Rouhani the victor of the country's presidential election on Saturday, giving the 68-year-old cleric a second four-year term to see out his agenda calling for greater freedoms and outreach to the wider world.

Long lines formed outside polling places in northern and western Tehran, middle-class districts that are strongholds for Rouhani, a relative moderate who was locked in a two-man race with arch-conservative former prosecutor Ebrahim Raisi.

Rouhani has sought to frame the election as a choice between greater civil liberties and "extremism".

Opposition leaders under house arrest, Mir Hossein Mousavi, his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, and Mehdi Karroubi, had also urged people to vote for Rouhani.

Rouhani has vowed to work towards removing the remaining non-nuclear sanctions, but critics argue that will be hard with Donald Trump as USA president - Trump has repeatedly described it as "one of the worst deals ever signed", although his administration re-authorised waivers from sanctions this week. He said that voters should also keep in mind that the election outcome is extremely important for the country's foreign policy.

But voters seem to have backed Rouhani's efforts to reach out to the world. The Saudis are a strong US ally and arch-enemy of Iran; the largely Sunni Saudis strongly opposed President Obama's outreach and nuclear deal with the Persian Shia power.

He gained a reprieve this week when Washington agreed to continue waiving nuclear-related sanctions, keeping the deal on track for now.

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But 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.

Rouhani has vowed to work towards removing the remaining non-nuclear sanctions, but critics argue that will be hard with Trump in power.

The nuclear deal has been controversial in both the United States and Iran and debates in Iran have focused on this issue.

Oil sales have rebounded since the nuclear deal took effect in January 2016, but growth in the rest of the economy has been limited, leaving unemployment at 12.5 percent overall, and nearly 30 percent for young people. Khamenei is considered a supporter of Raisi.

Inflation is down dramatically and growth is up, but so is unemployment - youth unemployment is above 25 per cent.

"The nuclear deal is like a check that Rouhani's government was not able to cash", Raisi said in a televised interview during his campaign, according to Reuters.

"The wide mobilisation of the hardline groups and the real prospect of Raisi winning scared many people into coming out to vote", said Nasser, a 52-year-old journalist.

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