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Iran's presidential candidates using Western campaign tactics

TEHRAN -- They're sending roller-skating young women into the streets. Imploring Muslim Shi'ite saints for help. Wearing robes that make them seem modern. And trotting out the war veterans for photo sessions.

Iran's presidential candidates, liberals and hard-liners alike, are resorting to some tried-and-true Western campaign tactics -- appealing to religious conviction, surrounding themselves with young followers, and showing their sensitive sides -- to appeal to the country's key voter bloc, Iranian youths.

Just three days before the crucial vote, the feverish campaigning was not slowed even by bombings Sunday in the capital and southwestern Iran that killed 10 people.

Iranians will choose a successor Friday to President Mohammad Khatami, a reformist who cannot run again. Most of the eight candidates are hard-liners, who have nevertheless adopted popular reformist slogans.

Young people make up the majority of Iran's 70 million people, and their turnout and how they vote is considered key to who wins.

The front-runner, former President Hashemi Rafsanjani, has made reaching out to youths a campaign priority, surprising many citizens of the capital as hundreds of young women wearing makeup and colorful headscarves began distributing his posters and sticking his photos on their cars.

Dozens of roller-skating young women with Rafsanjani's name emblazoned on their clothing in English and in Farsi also whizzed across Tehran's main streets at one point to attract public attention.

And some women even have worn pro-Rafsanjani banners across the low back of their long but tight coats, their hair hanging loose -- fashion that falls short of the strict Islamic dress code.

With the reformers severely weakened, Rafsanjani is seen as the most credible force to stop hard-line allies of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, from seizing the presidency.

The hard-liners are using the same types of populist tactics, but with a twist. The televised campaign film of Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a former military commander, shows him praying and addressing war veterans. He praises their sacrifices during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

The death toll from the weekend explosions rose to 10 when one of the injured died, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported yesterday. At least 98 people in the provincial capital of Ahvaz were wounded, 26 in serious condition.

Nine of the deaths occurred in Ahvaz and one in Tehran. Another four were wounded in the Tehran blast. The bombings were the deadliest in more than a decade in Iran. Police said one suspect had been arrested but gave no details.

Iran Intelligence Minister Ali Yunesi blamed Iranian Arab extremists for the deadly bombings and contended the ringleaders were based outside the country and connected to foreign intelligence services. He did not identify the leaders and stopped short of directly linking foreign hands to the bombings.

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