Final 2 candidates for Iranian presidency kick off intensive campaign


TEHRAN, Iran - The ultraconservative mayor of Tehran and a more moderate former president launched the official two-day presidential runoff campaign yesterday, plowing ahead in search of votes in spite of fresh charges that the first-round balloting was illegal.

Reformers vowed to rescue the country from becoming "fascist" or "Taliban" if Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was elected, while a spokesman for the conservatives insisted that their candidate was not extremist and was being demonized by reformers.

Emotions on both sides ran high for the vote Friday between Ahmadinejad, 48, and the former president, Hashemi Rafsanjani, 70. The election could determine whether Iran will maintain its hostility toward the United States and its insistence on continuing a nuclear program, or whether it will seek a more conciliatory foreign policy and compromise on nuclear issues.

A furious campaign got under way among moderates and reformers to prevent the election of Ahmadinejad. Mobile-phone text messages were being circulated widely, most urging Iranians to vote for Rafsanjani "lest Iran fall into the hands of a fascist government and be destroyed."

Opponents of the Tehran mayor stood in the street stuffing fliers through the windows of passing cars. The fliers declared, "Rescue Iran, Step Forward and Participate," and showed a white "X" over a black circle, which one Iranian said meant "No to dictatorship."

Even some staunch reformists who in the past have been highly critical of revolutionary stalwart Rafsanjani were calling on the people to vote for him.

The moderate-controlled Interior Ministry - which, along with the conservative Guardian Council, is responsible for counting votes - spelled out its objections to Friday's first round, saying there was a widespread pattern of official interference.

The ministry raised fears that it could happen again in the runoff.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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