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Early results in Iran presidential election give reformist-backed Rowhani wide lead

Saturday - 6/15/2013, 1:20am  ET

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's reformist-backed presidential candidate has surged to a wide lead in early vote counting.

The head of the interior ministry's election department says Hasan Rowhani had nearly more than 38 percent of the vote with more than 3 million votes tallied. Rowhani's net closest competitor had about 16 percent.

Still, the strong margin would not be enough for Rowhani to win the presidency outright and avoid a two-person runoff next Friday.

Rowhani is the only cleric among the six candidates, so his victory would not likely be perceived as a threat to the ruling structure. He served for a time as the country's nuclear negotiator, quitting the post shortly after Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (ah-muh-DEE'-neh-zhahd) was elected in 2005, after quarrelsome meetings with the new president. That move cemented Rowhani's reputation as a moderate who rejected Ahmadinejad's combative approach in world affairs.

With 50 million eligible voters and a strong turnout -- one hardline newspaper estimated it at 75 percent -- it's unclear when a final count will be known.

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APPHOTO CARS103: A woman places her ballot in a box as Iranians outside their country of origin cast ballots in Iran's presidential election, in a hotel meeting room in Los Angeles Friday, June 14, 2013. Iranian-Americans and expatriates cast ballots Friday in polling places across the United States, joining their countrymen half a world away in selecting the next Iranian president (AP Photo/Reed Saxon) (14 Jun 2013)

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