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51 Percent Turnout Reported in Iran's Parliamentary Election - 2004-02-22

Iran's Interior Ministry says voter turnout in Friday's general election was 50.6 percent, considerably less than 67 percent four years ago, when reformists won a majority in Parliament.

The ministry says the turnout in Tehran and surrounding areas was 34 percent.

Voter turnout has been the focus of debate since before the election, because conservatives were all but assured of victory after Iran's hard-line leaders barred 24-hundred mostly reformist candidates from running.

Key reformist parties called for a boycott of the election, saying a low voter turnout would send a message to the country's conservative leadership that Iranians do not agree with the decision to disqualify reformist candidates.

Conservatives have been insisting that there was a large turnout of the country's 46 million eligible voters.

Complete polling results are not expected for at least another day, although the outcome is not in doubt and conservatives are expected to have a majority in the 290-member parliament.

In another development, officials in southern Iran say four people were killed Saturday in election-related violence. Authorities say a clash in the town of Firouzabad was sparked by a dispute over poll results.

On Saturday, Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, hailed the election as a victory for the Iranian people over Iran's enemies.

A conservative takeover of parliament is expected to further isolate reformist President Mohammad Khatami, whose term expires next year.

Some information for this report provided by AP, Reuters and AFP.