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Iran Reform Leader Urges Support for Rafsanjani in Second Vote Round


Iranian veiled women, walk past campaign posters of Tehran's hardline mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, for presidential elections, at the Enqelab (Revolution) St. in Tehran
A leading reformer in Iran has called on those voters who boycotted Friday's election to vote in the runoff race. The runoff pits a moderate former president against a hard-line conservative.

Breaking his silence about the election, human rights activist Emadeddin Baghi called on reformists Sunday to, as he put it, "hold their noses" and vote for former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.

Mr. Baghi said those members of Iran's splintered reform movement who boycotted the election should now unite behind Mr. Rafsanjani. He said that the other candidate in Friday's runoff vote, Tehran Mayor Mahmood Ahmadinejad, would be far worse for human rights in Iran than Mr. Rafsanjani.

"We have a selection between bad and worse," he said. "So, I think that, if Hashemi [Rafsanjani] comes to power, at least we have a place to inhalation, to breathe [breathing room]."

Mr. Rafsanjani, considered a moderate, won the most votes in last Friday's election, but did not get 50 percent-plus-one of the vote, forcing a runoff. Mr. Ahmadinejad, a hardline conservative, emerged from a seven-candidate field to take second place. Hundreds of other potential candidates, mainly reformists and women, were disqualified by the Guardian Council, an unelected body of hard-line mullahs.

Mr. Baghi is a writer and activist, particularly on behalf of political prisoners. His books have been banned in Iran, and, in 2003, he was released from prison after serving three years on charges of abandoning the Islamic faith. He still has one more suspended year on his sentence that he may yet have to serve.

Mr. Baghi had refused to take a public stance about the election until now. He is breaking his silence because, he said, the gains made by democratic reformers in recent years might well disappear, if Mr. Ahmedinejad wins the presidency.

Mr. Baghi echoed the complaints of vote fraud made by third-place finisher and reform candidate Mehdi Karroubi. However, he offered no evidence to prove the assertion. The Interior Ministry has said the voting was in order.

"Fairly [democratic]," said Mr. Baghi when asked if the election was democratic.

He said the role of the Guardian Council, an unelected body of hardline clerics, marred the electoral process. He did not elaborate.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi called on President Bush to apologize for calling the Iranian election undemocratic. Mr. Kharrazi said Mr. Bush's remarks the day before the election actually spurred voter turnout, and dampened the boycott urged by some reformists.