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Hassan Rouhani has officially replaced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran.
Cleric Hassan Rouhani’s election has been endorsed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at a ceremony in the capital, Tehran.
He won the presidential poll in June, promising to reform and to put an end to Iran’s international isolation.
The ceremony marks the handover of power, but his public inauguration does not take place until Sunday.
He is a former nuclear negotiator for Iran and was an Islamic activist before the 1979 Revolution.
Speaking at the ceremony, Hassan Rouhani said: ”I have assumed this responsibility with the support of those people who want change, who want a better life, away from corruption, poverty and discrimination, people who want more respect and dignity, and hope in a secure future.”
Hassan Rouhani, 64, has the support of Iran’s reform movement, which wants the new president to release political prisoners and have international sanctions lifted.
Hassan Rouhani has officially replaced Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president of Iran
But while he may be taking over as president, Hassan Rouhani will not be Iran’s main decision-maker.
In the Islamic Republic, it is the Supreme Leader, not the president, who has the final say.
The day before he took office, Hassan Rouhani said Israeli occupation was an “old wound on the body of the Islamic world”, as Iran marked its annual Jerusalem (Quds) Day.
His remarks echo those of other Iranian leaders on the day dedicated to supporting the Palestinians and denouncing Israel.
Iran has denied Israel’s right to exist since the 1979 Islamic revolution.
In his last interview before stepping aside on Friday, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad also attacked Israel, warning of “storm brewing” in the region that would uproot Zionism, according to AFP news agency.
Many Iranians believe Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, elected twice in controversial polls, has put Iran on the path to economic ruin and confrontation with the outside world.
Some 50 million voters across Iran are casting their ballots in the country’s key presidential elections.
Although all six candidates are seen as conservatives, one of them, cleric Hassan Rouhani, has been reaching out to the reformists in recent days.
The election will decide a successor to outgoing leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s eight years in power have been characterized by economic turmoil and Western sanctions against Iran over its controversial nuclear programme.
Polls across Iran opened at 08:00 local time and are due to close at 18:00. Some 50 million people are eligible to cast their ballots.
The past week brought a surprising change to what otherwise had looked like being a predictable election.
Hassan Rouhani has been attracting increasing attention, speaking publicly about the need to re-engage with the West, our correspondent says.
He has also promised to free political prisoners and called for greater reform of the media.
The surge of support for him came after Mohammad Reza Aref, the only reformist candidate in the race, announced on Tuesday that he was withdrawing his candidature on the advice of pro-reform ex-President Mohammad Khatami.
Hassan Rouhani now has the endorsement of two ex-presidents, Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who was disqualified from the race by the powerful Guardian Council.
However, Hassan Rouhani faces a tough challenge from hard-line candidates, including top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and Tehran’s mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.
Six candidates are running for Iran’s presidential race
The remaining candidates are conservatives close to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei.
He has called for a large turnout but not publicly stated his preference for any single candidate.
After casting his vote early, Ayatollah Khamenei spoke live on state television.
“Inshallah [God willing], the Iranian people will create a new political epic,” he said.
He also attacked US criticism of the presidential poll and those, in the US, who said they did not recognize the election.
“The Iranian people… will do what is in their interest.”
If no candidate secures 50.1 percent or more of the votes to win outright, a second round will be held in a week’s time.
Friday’s election is the first since 2009, when protesters took to the streets in anger at the results which they said had been rigged in favor of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
But the disqualification of Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in May left supporters of the post-2009 liberal movement divided about whether to bother voting in the election at all.
No foreign observers will be monitoring the poll, and there have also been concerns that media coverage in the run-up was unfair.
Many reform newspapers have been shut down, access to the internet and foreign broadcasters restricted, and journalists detained.
Iranian presidential elections:
- Six candidates running
- Race is seen as contest between Ayatollah Ali Khamenei loyalists and moderate reformers
- About 50 million eligible voters
- If no candidate wins 50.1%, run-off held on June 21
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been heavily criticized over both real and fake photos showing him consoling the grieving family members of late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
During Hugo Chavez’s funeral in Caracas on Friday, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was photographed sympathizing with Elena Frias de Chavez, 78.
While it is not a full embrace, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Hugo Chavez’s mother have their faces brushed against each other, with their hands clasped in a moment of shared grief. Several news agencies released photos of the unexpected scene.
Muslim men are by tradition forbidden to touch women who are not members of their close family.
Conservative critics, already irked by Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s effusive eulogy for the leftist leader, reminded him that he has not only committed a sin, but also behaved in a way inappropriate for the president of an Islamic state.
They said it was another sign that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was influenced by the “deviant current”, a term used to label his close aides, and increasingly himself, and distance him from the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Iranian government spin doctors tried to deflect the criticism by claiming the photograph was faked.
“They have doctored the picture or took it from an angle that appears to show they (Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Elena Frias de Chavez) are in contact. There was no handshake,” said Mohammad Reza Mir Tajeddini, an aide to the president.
During Hugo Chavez’s funeral in Caracas on Friday, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was photographed sympathizing with Elena Frias de Chavez
Then in an intriguing twist, a clearly Photoshopped version of the picture made the rounds on some Iranian websites. It showed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad with an old balding man in the very same pose.
The president’s supporters insisted this was the genuine photo, depicting an uncle of Hugo Chavez, while the one with his mother was indeed Photoshopped.
But on close inspection, it’s clear that the so-called uncle is the Egyptian opposition leader and former director-general of the UN nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei.
In real life, Mohamed ElBaradei is much taller than Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but in the doctored picture he appears significantly shorter than the Iranian president.
In another baffling twist, Entekhab, a website that had earlier chastised Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for the original picture of the president and Hugo Chavez’s mother, issued an unreserved apology to the Iranian president.
It blamed the Daily Telegraph for “Photoshopping the picture amateurishly”.
This was all the ammunition pro-Ahmadinejad websites and blogs needed. A few hours later, Entekhab withdrew its own apology, however.
“After seeing the picture of Ahmadinejad and the old man, one of our reporters thought this was the real photo. Believing that he has made a significant discovery, he published the story without informing his editors. Unfortunately, the photo showing Ahmadinejad and (Mrs.) Chavez is genuine,” read Entekhab‘s statement.
There is also another contentious picture published by anti-Ahmadinejad websites, falsely claiming it shows the president hugging one of Hugo Chavez’s daughters.
The Iranian president’s supporters are claiming a smear campaign to discredit Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his aides as they attempt to retain power in the June presidential election.
Leaders from Latin America and beyond are gathering in Caracas for the state funeral of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez.
After the funeral, Hugo Chavez’s body will be taken to a military museum to lie in state for another seven days.
More than two million mourners have already filed past his body at a military academy.
Hugo Chavez’s body is to be embalmed and placed on permanent display, Vice-President Nicolas Maduro says.
Later on Friday, Nicolas Maduro is due to be sworn in as acting president. As such, he must call elections within 30 days.
Hugo Chavez, who led Venezuela for 14 years, died on Tuesday aged 58 after a long battle with cancer.
More than 30 heads of state are expected to attend Friday’s funeral including Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Cuban President Raul Castro and Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has praised Hugo Chavez as a “martyr” and a “wise and revolutionary leader”.
Leaders from Latin America and beyond are gathering in Caracas for the state funeral of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez
Meanwhile, President Sebastian Pinera of Chile arrived at Simon Bolivar airport in Caracas early on Friday, telling reporters that the thoughts of Chile were with Venezuela at a difficult time.
US Congressman Gregory Meeks and former Congressman William Delahunt will represent the United States at the funeral of Hugo Chavez, a fierce critic of Washington.
Nicolas Maduro said that Hugo Chavez’s body would be embalmed “like Lenin and Mao Zedong”, and put on display for at least another seven days.
The body will be moved to the Caracas military museum where in 1992 Hugo Chavez – as an army officer – was captured after leading a failed coup.
Nicolas Maduro said the building would be converted into a new “museum of the revolution”.
Hugo Chavez’s supporters want him eventually interred in Venezuela’s national Pantheon alongside Simon Bolivar, the 19th Century independence leader the late president claimed as his political inspiration.
However, Venezuela’s constitution says people can only be admitted to the Pantheon 25 years after their death.
Hugo Chavez named Nicolas Maduro as his preferred successor following the recurrence of his cancer.
Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has decided to sack Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, the sole woman in his cabinet, state television reports.
Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi was also the first woman minister in the 30-year history of the Islamic republic.
While no reason has been given, the dismissal is being linked to her call for drug price rises to fight shortages caused by international sanctions.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad rejected her comments, saying her budget needs had been met.
Analysts say international sanctions have done significant damage to the Islamic republic’s economy and led to a steep currency plunge.
Although they do not directly target medicines, they limit their importation because of restrictions on financial transactions.
Health Minister Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi, the sole woman in Iran’s government, has been sacked by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Prior to her dismissal, Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi said that because of the rise in the foreign exchange rate, there would be an inevitable increase in the price of medicine.
She complained of her department’s inability to get access to foreign currency she had been promised.
“In the first half of the current year, the Central Bank has not allocated any exchange for the import of drugs and medical equipment,” Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi said.
“We need $2.5 billion in foreign exchange to meet the needs of the medical sector for the year, but only $650 million has been earmarked.”
But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a TV interview that enough money had been allocated to the health ministry.
“No-one has the right to raise the price of medicine,” he added.
Mohammad Hassan Tariqat Monfared has been appointed as interim health minister, the Reuters news agency reports.
The EU and US recently announced new sanctions over Iran’s nuclear plans.
They suspect Iran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, something it denies.
Marzieh Vahid Dastjerdi was the first woman minister of the Islamic republic, although a woman did serve as vice-president for the environment under Mohammad Khatami.
The rial, Iran’s beleaguered currency, has fallen to fresh record lows against the US dollar.
It fell a further 9% on Tuesday after Monday’s 18% decline, reports say.
Iran’s central bank has placed a $5,000 limit on the amount of foreign currency travellers can take in or out.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has blamed “the enemies of his country” for the sharp falls. The rial has reportedly lost more than 80% of its value since 2011 because of US-led trade sanctions.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Western sanctions amounted to an economic war, but would not stop Iran’s nuclear programme.
“We are not people to retreat on the nuclear issue,” he told a news conference in Tehran.
“If somebody thinks they can pressure Iran, they are certainly wrong and they must correct their behavior,” he said.
Recent moves by Tehran to ensure key importers can buy dollars at a cheaper rate is said to have worsened matters.
The US-led sanctions are being imposed on Iran because of the country’s disputed nuclear programme. The US accuses Iran of aiming to build nuclear weapons, while Iran counters that it simply wishes to develop nuclear power stations.
The sanctions, which are backed by the European Union, include a ban on the purchase of Iranian oil.
The US has also threatened to take action against foreign firms and institutions dealing with the Iranian central bank.
While Iranians are said to be scrambling to convert their rials into hard currency, thereby adding to the downward pressure on the rial, the government has blamed speculation by money changers.
According to the Iranian Fars news agency, Iran’s Minister of Industry, Mines and Trade, Mehdi Ghazanfari, said: “We have greater expectations that the security services will control the branches and sources of disruption in the exchange market.
“Brokers in the market are also pursuing the increase in price, because for them it will be profitable, and there is nobody to control them.”
On Tuesday, the rial was said to be trading in Iran at about 37,500 to the dollar, down from around 34,200 late on Monday.
The rial is not traded on the global currency markets, so it is not possible to produce accurate figures for its value.
The weakness of the rial has harmed the wider Iranian economy, as it means the country cannot afford to import as many foreign goods and raw materials which are priced in hard currencies.
As a result of the tightened trade sanctions, Iran’s income from oil exports had fallen by 45% this year, causing the shortage in dollars and other hard currencies.
He added that Iranian authorities had for many years used the country’s abundant oil earnings to keep the rial artificially high.
With oil revenues now sharply reduced, our reporter said that both the government and the central bank now seemed unsure how to react.
He added: “Iran’s years of state intervention in the artificial appreciation of the rial, thanks to abundant petro-dollars, has turned the currency into a barrel of gunpowder now detonated by sanctions.
“At a time of crisis, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s government is plagued by inefficiency, mismanagement and a domestic power struggle.”
Four people have been sentenced to death in Iran for their roles in the country’s biggest-ever bank fraud scandal.
Two other defendants received life sentences, while 33 more will spend up to 25 years in jail, the chief prosecutor was quoted as saying.
The scandal involved forged documents reportedly used by an investment company to secure loans worth $2.6 billion.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last year denied allegations that his government was involved.
The identities of the defendants have not been made public.
Four people have been sentenced to death in Iran for their roles in the country's biggest-ever bank fraud scandal
The case broke in September 2011 when an investment firm was accused of forging documents to obtain credit from at least seven Iranian banks over a four-year period.
The money was reportedly used to buy state-owned companies under the government’s privatization scheme.
As part of their probe, authorities froze the assets of an Iranian businessman thought to be the mastermind behind the scam.
The firm at the heart of the scandal had moved from a small start-up capital to being worth billions of dollars.
The affair fuelled weeks of political infighting between Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Iran’s ruling hierarchy of clerics.
Economy Minister Shamseddin Hosseini scraped through an impeachment vote in November after conservative hardliners accused him of failing to take action over the fraud.
Iran and P5+1 are meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, for talks aimed at ending the deadlock over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
Envoys from the US, UK, France, China, Russia and Germany hope the talks will halt rising regional tension.
Iran says its nuclear programme is peaceful, but critics suspect it of seeking to develop nuclear weapons.
Israel has hinted in recent months that it could carry out a pre-emptive strike on Iran to prevent that happening.
The talks are the first to be held between Iran and the world’s major powers for 15 months.
The envoys are setting the bar pretty low – they do not expect detailed, substantive proposals from either side.
What they want to see is whether Iran is ready to seriously engage and, if that happens, there may be another round of talks in four to six weeks time.
Michael Mann, spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said the Istanbul talks had started in a “positive atmosphere”, adding: “There is a desire for substantive progress.”
The six world powers, known collectively as the P5+1, hope the talks will at least cool tensions.
Iran and P5+1 are meeting in Istanbul for talks aimed at ending the deadlock over Tehran's nuclear programme
Russia said they had to be “constructive”, and warned both sides not to “overblow the differences” between them.
“We really need to find a middle course,” said Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
“The negotiations are about renewing confidence.”
US President Barack Obama has described this as a “last chance” for diplomacy to work, while Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Iran had to “demonstrate clearly in the actions they propose that they have truly abandoned any nuclear weapons ambition”.
But one source close to the Iranian delegation told Agence France-Presse: “So far the Iranian delegation finds the Western position … disappointing and discouraging.”
On Thursday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country was “standing firm on its fundamental rights and under the harshest pressure will not retreat an iota from its undeniable right”.
The P5+1 group hopes eventually to persuade Iran to reduce its enrichment of uranium and fully open up its nuclear facilities to inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
There are suggestions that the stringent sanctions on Iran could be reduced if it complies with the requests.
The last series of international talks broke down in January 2011 after the parties failed to agree on any issues.
Since then, the IAEA expressed concern that Iran had failed to co-operate with its inspectors and had carried out activities “relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device”.
Israel, which believes a nuclear-capable Iran would be a direct threat to its security, has warned that time is running out to prevent that outcome.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he would never allow Israelis to “live in the shadow of annihilation”, and hinted his country is ready to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities if diplomacy does not work soon.
President Barack Obama has warned against “loose talk of war”, while stressing that all options remain open.