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Iranians vote in snap election to replace president killed in crash

Iranians voted Friday in a snap election to replace the late hard-line President Ebrahim Raisi, with the race’s sole reformist candidate vowing to seek “friendly relations” with the West in an effort to boost his campaign.

The remarks by heart surgeon Masoud Pezeshkian come after he and his allies were targeted by a veiled warning from the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, over their outreach to the United States.

Pezeshkian’s comments, made after he cast his ballot, appeared to be aimed at boost turnout as public apathy has grown pervasive in the Islamic Republic after years of economic woes, mass protests and tensions in the Middle East.

Voters face a choice between hard-line candidates and the little-known Pezeshkian who belongs to Iran’s reformist movement that seeks to change its Shiite theocracy from within. As has been the case since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, women and those calling for radical change have been barred from standing as candidates, while the vote itself will have no oversight from internationally recognized monitors.

The voting comes as wider tensions have gripped the Middle East over the Israel-Hamas conflict in the Gaza Strip. In April, Iran launched its first-ever direct attack on Israel over the conflict in Gaza, while militia groups that Tehran arms in the region — such as the Lebanese Hezbollah and Yemen’s Houthi rebels — are engaged in the fighting and have escalated their attacks.

Meanwhile, Iran continues to enrich uranium at near weapons-grade levels and maintains a stockpile large enough to build — should it choose to do so — several nuclear weapons.

While Iran’s 85-year-old Khamenei has the final say on all matters of state, presidents can bend the country’s policies toward

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