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Moderate Cleric Rowhani Wins Iran Presidential Vote

Iran's interior minister has declared moderate cleric Hassan Rowhani the winner of the nation's presidential election, in a surprise victory over the nation's ruling hardliners.

Rowhani -- the favorite of reformists and a former chief nuclear negotiator -- received close to 19 million votes out of nearly 37 million counted. He secured slightly more than 50 percent of the vote, eliminating the need for a runoff. The next closest candidate, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, trailed far behind Rowhani with more than 16 percent of the vote.

The United States congratulated the Iranian people for their participation in the election, with White House press secretary Jay Carney saying the Obama administration respects the vote. But Carney's statement pointed out that the election took place against what he described as "government obstacles and limitations," including a lack of transparency, censorship of the media and an intimidating security environment.

Carney said the U.S. hopes the Iranian government will heed its people's will and make choices that create a better future for them. He reiterated the U.S. willingness to engage Iran directly to reach a diplomatic solution to concerns over its nuclear program.

About 50 million Iranians were eligible to vote in Friday's election, putting the turnout at above 70 percent.

Rowhani is slated to succeed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was constitutionally barred from a third consecutive term.

This is Iran's first presidential vote since Mr. Ahmadinejad's disputed re-election in 2009 spawned widespread protests and a bloody crackdown by the government.

Analysts say high interest in the carefully orchestrated campaign may have been due to Rowhani's candidacy.

Officials extended voting by several hours Friday to accommodate what they described as a large turnout in the presidential election.

As president-elect, Rowhani will prepare to take on an economy struggling with high unemployment and inflation and crippled by international sanctions over Iran's disputed nuclear program.

Excluding Rowhani, most of the six candidates vying for the presidency were considered hardliners loyal to the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Rowhani is also said to have a close relationship with Mr. Khamenei.

While the new president-elect has vowed to improve ties with the international community, the election outcome is unlikely to significantly alter Iran's relationship with the rest of the world, as major policy decisions rest with the supreme leader.

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