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Ahmadinejad opponents win majority of local election seats

TEHRAN -- Moderate conservatives opposed to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won a majority of seats in local elections across Iran, according to final results announced yesterday. They were followed by reformists, making a comeback after being driven out of local councils, parliament, and the presidency over the past five years.

Despite elections that showed Iranians want him to focus on the country's domestic problems, Ahmadinejad kept up his tirades against the West. He called President Bush "the most hated person" in the world.

In the capital Tehran, where Ahmadinejad was mayor before becoming president 16 months ago, his allies grabbed only three of the 15 council seats, while moderate conservatives won seven. Reformists won four, and an independent took one. Though the Dec. 15 elections were local, they were the first time the public has weighed in on Ahmadinejad's stormy presidency.

But Ahmadinejad appeared unbowed. He toured cities in western Iran, telling the crowds that Iran will not be intimidated by Western demands to dismantle its nuclear program, and scolding Bush.

"Oh, the respectful gentleman, get out of the glassy palace and know that you are the most hated person in the eyes of the world's nations and you can't harm the Iranian nation," Ahmadinejad said, according to the official Iranian Republic News Agency.

The United States and its allies say Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. Iran denies the allegation, saying its nuclear goal is only to generate electricity.

Ahmadinejad did not comment on the election results. But his hard-line foreign policy, in the absence of a strong domestic agenda or economic program, is believed to have divided the conservative base that voted him into the presidency last year.

He has sharply escalated Iran's standoff with the United States and its allies over several issues. Besides uranium enrichment, he has sparked international outrage for his calls to eliminate Israel and for questioning the Nazi Holocaust.

Similar anti-Ahmadinejad sentiment appeared in final results of a parallel election for the Assembly of Experts, the body of 86 senior clerics that monitors Iran's supreme Islamic leader and chooses his successor.

A big boost for moderates within the ruling Islamic establishment was seen in the large number of votes for former president Hashemi Rafsanjani, who lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential election runoff.

Rafsanjani, who supports dialogue with the United States, got the most votes of any candidate from Tehran to win reelection to the assembly.

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