Iran's supreme leader says poll a blow to US


Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has hailed a parliamentary election in which conservatives surged towards victory as a defeat for the Islamic Republic's enemies, the United States and Israel.

Interior Ministry figures on Saturday showed conservatives, hostile to President Mohammad Khatami's liberal reforms, had won 133 out of the first 194 seats declared, Deputy Parliament Speaker Behzad Nabavi said. A total of 289 seats were at stake.

Khamenei, Iran's highest authority, was quoted on television as saying the February 20 election in the oil-producing state had been held under the "bombardment of enemy propaganda".

"The losers in this election are the United States, Israeli Zionists and the country's enemies," Khamenei said.

Washington and the European Union voiced concern over the way the election was held. Reformists, in the majority in the outgoing parliament, said the poll was rigged and many boycotted it after the unelected hardline Guardian Council banned 2,500 mainly reformist candidates.

A conservative majority could spell an end to Khatami's seven-year experiment in allowing greater freedom of speech and loosening Islamic cultural and social restrictions, a drive that hardliners have tried to obstruct at every turn.