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1,010 apply to run in Iran election

TEHRAN, Iran - A record 1,010 people registered by Saturday to run in next month's presidential elections, which ruling clerics see as a chance to consolidate their power following the departure of reformist President Mohammad Khatami.

Former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, who moves frequently between the hard-line and more moderate camps, will likely be a front-runner in the race. Rafsanjani has in the past sought to make contacts with the United States, a stance shunned by hard-liners.

Eighty-nine women were among those who registered by the Saturday night deadline, although the hard-line Guardian Council - a constitutional watchdog that supervises the elections - has already said it will not allow women to run.

The Council, which has 10 days to vet applicants, caused outrage among reformists when it disqualified more than 2,000 who registered last year in legislative elections, effectively barring reformists from the assembly. The move led to a low turnout and reformists denounced the vote as a "historical fiasco."

The Council will likely be more cautious with the presidential vote. With the United States focusing its attention on Iran, the country's clerical leadership wants a high turnout to avoid further damage to its legitimacy.

The presidential hopefuls include several senior hard-line politicians, a number of political dissidents and even Nasser Hejazi, a former goalkeeper of the national soccer team who has no political background.

Many of those who registered knew they had little chance of being allowed to run, hoping instead to make a political statement or just get the attention of friends. But there seemed to be little public interest in the presidential race.

"Who cares, the president has no power in Iran's power pyramid. Why should I waste my time for voting that concludes nothing?" asked Mohammad Ali Tehrani, 34.

State-run television has pushed the vote with commercials showing footage of past elections, and refers to June 17, election day, as a "fate-making" day. Earlier this week, Iran's top nuclear negotiator said the negotiations on the country's nuclear program would be stronger if more people voted.

The outgoing Khatami, who came to power in a landslide in 1997, was regularly stifled in his attempts to bring political and social overhaul by hard-line clerics led by supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. He is barred by law from seeking a third term.

In the 2001 presidential election, 814 nominees registered.

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