Update: Moderate candidate wins presidential vote in Iran, per interior minister

Iran Presidential Election LA - 2

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Voters hold up their right index fingers after participating in the Iranian presidential election on Friday at the Westin Hotel near Los Angeles International Airport.

UPDATE 9:23 a.m.: Iran's interior minister says moderate candidate Hasan Rowhani has won the presidential vote.

Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said at a news conference Saturday in Tehran that Rowhani obtained more than 50 percent of more than 36 million votes cast in Friday's election.

Rowhani was the lone moderate candidate supported by reformists in a race that once appeared solidly in the hands of Tehran's ruling clerics.

Rowhani's conservative and hard-line opponents were far behind the moderate Rowhani who has vowed to follow a policy of detente and interaction with the outside world.

PREVIOUSLY: People trickled in throughout the afternoon Friday to a makeshift polling place at the Westin LAX hotel on Century Boulevard, one of four places in Southern California where Iranian expatriates were able to vote in their native country's national election.

Some of the voters had lived in the United States for decades; others were recent immigrants who were in Iran for the controversial 2009 election.

In that election, two challengers promising political reform failed to oust President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The opposition claimed there was rampant fraud, touching off massive street protests.

Many of those voting Friday in Los Angeles wore green, the color worn during those protests that has become a symbol of Iran's reform movement. They were casting votes for one of six candidates vying to succeed Ahmadinejad. But there weren't the sort of numbers that came to vote at the same hotel four years ago, said Kamran Saeidpor, a real estate agent who volunteered as a poll assistant.

"A lot of people, because of what happened the last time, they don't want to do it again," Saeidpor said. "Some people said no, forget it. But then a lot of them said no, I am not going to give up."

Iran's government restricted the list of candidates to those acceptable to the religious leadership. Some younger voters in L.A. said they'd participated in online debates about whether it was worth voting this time, and like 34-year-old Reza Arbab, decided it was the right thing to do.

"Voting is better than boycotting the election, because what are we going to lose?" Arbab said. "If we vote, and they cheat, we are not going to lose anything. It is like gambling."

While many voters came and went quietly, some posed for photographs with friends afterward, grinning and displaying their ink-stained fingers.

Others said voting was their civic duty to their native country. These included Freda, a 63-year-old Beverly Hills resident who didn't want her last name used. She said she left Iran 34 years ago, but that hasn't diminished how she feels.

"I feel responsibility as an Iranian citizen American," she said. "That is my first home, and I have the responsibility. Same as here, it is my second country, and I give it a vote always."

Iranians also voted in San Diego and San Francisco, and in a few other cities around the country.

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