Iran votes to choose new parliament
For the first time since a disputed presidential vote triggered a bloody crackdown against street protesters in 2009, Iranians went to the polls in a parliamentary vote on Friday likely to reflect a struggle for influence and position among the country's top leaders.
In the run-up to the vote, Iranian leaders have been urging a high turnout as they maneuver in advance of presidential elections next year when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad completes his second and final term since 2005.
The opposition, which played a central role in voicing allegations of fraud and challenging the outcome of the 2009 vote, has been left greatly weakened by the government's crackdown, its leaders under house arrest or jailed and its access to a voice in the media closed down.
The ballot coincides with mounting international concern over Iran's nuclear program and growing speculation about whether Israel will launch a military strike against Tehran's nuclear facilities. The Iran issue is expected to dominate talks in Washington on Friday between President Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.
The vote is unlikely to change Iran's insistence on its right to a nuclear program, which, Tehran says, is for civilian purposes only. Western leaders suspect that Tehran is seeking to enhance its uranium enrichment capacity for military purposes.
The United States and its European Union allies have been seeking to impose a stranglehold of sanctions against Iran, which have begun to hurt the country's private sector and middle class, inspiring unusual open criticism of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader.
The value of the Iranian currency has plummeted, forcing up the price of imported goods, and inflation is said to be running above 20 percent, hurting many Iranians.