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Dow Jones Newswires
May 24, 1997

Moderate Khatami Declared Winner Of Iran Presidential Vote

TEHRAN -- A moderate cleric won a landslide victory Saturday to become Iran's next president after an election which symbolized a rejection of rigid Islamic strictures on daily life.

Former culture minister Mohammad Khatami was declared the winner Saturday, one day after a presidential election which saw a record turnout of nearly 30 million people.

Khatami, a middle-ranking cleric, clinched more than 20.7 million votes of the 29.7 million votes cast in the Friday election, crushing his arch-conservative challenger, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, who received 7.2 million votes.

Two other candidates who also ran won fewer than a million votes each, according to the final results announced on state radio and television.

'I give my warm congratulations to Mr. Khatami,' Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said in a message read on state radio.

Khatami will succeed President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who steps down in August after two, four-year terms.

The election on Friday evolved into a contest between a moderate faction of clerics and technocrats, and the hard-line clergy that has ruled since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The hard-liners want stricter enforcement of the Muslim code that dictates many aspects of the daily life of Iranians.

Restrictions such as the ban on satellite dishes introduced several years ago and the strict public dress code for women--they are allowed to show only their faces _ are among many examples of how the Shiite Muslim clergy asserts its authority over Iran's 60 million people.

Khatami was not expected to cancel or decree a dramatic relaxation of such restrictions, but rather have them applied with less fervor.

However, that was enough for Iranians to turn out at the polls in record numbers to register their wish for change.

Ibrahim Yazdi, head of the outlawed Freedom Movement, said Khatami's huge victory was a wake-up call to the powerful clergy.

'This is a protest vote and a referendum,' said Yazdi, whose group wants the ruling mullahs to grant Iranians basic freedoms.

He said people were 'fed up with the situation' and had turned against the hard-line clerics.