Polls have closed in Iran's parliamentary election amid claims of a huge voter turnout. Tensions over the country's nuclear program mounted, meanwhile, as the US president warned against a pre-emptive strike.
Parliamentary elections in Iran ended late Friday after almost 16 hours of voting. Iran's Interior Ministry reported that polling stations required a five-hour extension after being bombarded by huge voter turnout and finally closed at 11 p.m. local time (1930 GMT). Local witnesses have, however, questioned the regime's turnout claims.
Earlier on Friday the country's supreme leader called on voters to demonstrate national unity during a period of international tension by showing up to cast their ballots.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told Iranians that the election would be a "slap in the face to arrogant powers," adding that a high turnout would be good for the nation's "future, prestige and security."
Results from the provinces are expected to trickle in on Saturday, with results from the big cities, including Tehran, due in the coming days.
More than 48 million Iranians were eligible to vote at the nearly 47,000 polling stations around the country. But the elections for the 290-seat parliament were expected to have little impact on Tehran's political course. Only a handful of liberal-leaning candidates were among the 3,444 hopefuls, who were vetted by the Guardian Council.
Two leading opposition figures, Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mahdi Karroubi, remained under house arrest during the polls. They were prominent members of the 2009 Green Movement, which protested alleged electoral fraud during incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's reelection campaign.
With the opposition movement on the defensive, Friday's elections were seen largely as a contest between the competing conservative camps led respectively by Khamenei and Ahmadinejad. Tensions between the two became public in April 2011 when Khamenei, who has the final say in all state matters, forced Ahmadinejad to reinstate an intelligence minister that the president insisted on firing.
In the run up to his scheduled meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, US President Barack Obama said in an interview with the Atlantic Monthly magazine on Friday that a premature strike against Iran would run the risk of allowing the Islamic Republic to play the "victim."
"At a time when there is not a lot of sympathy for Iran and its only real ally (Syria) is on the ropes, do we want a distraction in which suddenly Iran can portray itself as the victim?" Obama said.
The US president said that his administration's Iran policy contains "a military component," and that both Tehran and Tel Aviv understand Washington is serious about stopping the Islamic Republic from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Netanyahu arrived in Ottawa early on Friday to meet with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper amid speculation that Israel could launch a pre-emptive strike against Iran to set back its nuclear program, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes.
The Israeli prime minister warned against engaging in negotiations with Tehran, claiming that talks were a way for the Islamic Republic to buy time.
"It could do again what it has done before," Netanyahu said. "It could pursue or exploit the talks as they've done in the past to deceive and delay so that they can continue to advance their nuclear program and get to the nuclear finish line by running up the clock."
slk,ccp/ipj (AP, AFP, Reuters)