(ADDS MORE REACTIONS, BACKGROUND)
By BosNewsLife Middle East Service
TEHRAN, IRAN (BosNewsLife)-- The only presidential candidate who pledged to work for religious minorities has won Iran's presidential elections, first results showed.
With over half of the votes counted moderate Hassan Rohani was leading with some 51 percent of the ballots cast.
"Only presidential candidate Hassan Rohani has promised to work for minorities, including Christians," said Firouz Khandjani, a key official of the Church of Iran, a major house church movement.
"We prayed for the election and we believe that this is a good result even if we understand that he cannot bring magical solutions," Khandjani told BosNewsLife in a first reaction.
However he cautioned that the former lead nuclear negotiator would "not be allowed to do that without the approval" of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. "We have to remain realistic, the president is only one element of the system," he cautioned.
Yet, Christians hope he may be a bigger challenge to Iran's clerical rule under which devoted Christians, including former Muslims, have experienced church closures and detentions.
"The president is not the Supreme Laeder, but he may be able to improve the life of Christian citizens," Khandjani explained.
There are believed to be at least 100,000 evangelical Christians in the country, though some church groups claim the actual figure may be several times higher. Whoever comes to power will face this growing phenomena in the heavily Islamic nation.
Rohani was also expected to take a less confrontational foreign policy line than outgoing president Mahmoud Amadinejad, who could not run again after two terms.
"We have prayed for we prayed for the hand of God in the elections. Ofcourse we have not to say the what the Lord has to do, but I believe that God answered our prayers," Khandjani said. "But we need to pray for the future of the country," he said. "We also have to pray for the Christians in this country and those living in exile," Khandjani added, referring to the several believers who said they were forced to flee the country.
The other main contender, Tehran mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, was seen winning nearly 16 percent, followed by Mohsen Rezaei with about 12 percent and nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili with roughly 11 percent.
The Guardian Council, a state body that vets all candidates, barred several hopefuls from the ballot, notably former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, one of the Islamic Republic's founding fathers seen as sympathetic to reform.
His close ally, Esfandiar Rahim Mashaie, was also barred from participating.
About 50 million votes were up for grabs, and the estimated turnout was expected to be around 75 percent. Several polling stations reportedly stayed open for five extra hours on Friday, June 14, due to the numbers of electors queuing outside.
Many voters apparently came after Khamenei urged Iranians to vote. He also condemned Western criticism about the credibility of Friday's ballot.
"I recently heard that someone at the U.S. National Security Council said 'we do not accept this election in Iran'," he recalled. "We don't give a damn," the leader warned.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is 'Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals' since 2004).
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