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Last Updated: Sunday, 17 December 2006, 18:17 GMT
Iran reformist regains influence
Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani
Ayatollah Rafsanjani has got a new lease of political life
Iran's moderate former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani has won election to Iran's powerful clerical body, the Assembly of Experts, results show.

With more than half the votes counted, Ayatollah Rafsanjani, who was defeated in the 2005 presidential election, had a clear lead at the top of the list.

The election - and simultaneous local polls - was seen as a test of support for President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Early results suggest liberals and moderates have regained some influence.

Official results have not yet been announced in either of the two elections.

Political revival

Displaying what correspondents describe as a new lease of political life, Ayatollah Rafsanjani led the poll with 1.3 million votes as counting continued.

Iranians are voting in two sets of elections
Assembly of Experts poll: Powerful clerical body which supervises the Supreme Leader
Local council polls: More than 250,000 candidates for around 100,000 seats nationwide
46.5 million eligible voters

He is almost half a million votes ahead of the second placed candidate.

His main rival, Ayatollah Mohammad Taghi Mesbah Yazdi - seen as a political mentor to President Ahmadinejad - is trailing in sixth place, but with enough votes to retain a seat on the Assembly of Experts.

Ayatollah Rafsanjani's strong performance has exceeded his supporters' expectations after his humiliating defeat in 2005, the BBC's Sadeq Saba in Tehran says.

The assembly of 86 theologians supervises the activities of Iran's supreme leader and chooses his successor when he dies.

Ayatollah Rafsanjani's success was helped by an unexpectedly high turnout and by a new alliance between him and the reformists, our correspondent says.

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