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Vote boosts opponents of Ahmadinejad

TEHRAN - Conservative rivals of Iran’s president claimed control of Parliament on Sunday with more than two-thirds of the seats decided by elections, handing the ruling Islamic establishment nearly seamless control in the escalating nuclear standoff with the West.

The outcome also puts an emphatic stamp on President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s political tumble after he dared to challenge Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over his power to direct key government affairs such as foreign policy and intelligence.

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Ahmadinejad - once considered a favored son of Iran’s theocracy - is left politically weakened moving into his final 18 months in office, and he could become the first president to be questioned by a hostile Parliament since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Although the 290-seat Parliament holds little control over policy matters such as Iran’s nuclear program, the win by hard-liners looked to reinforce Iran’s stiff rejection of Western pressure to stop its uranium enrichment program.

The West believes Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies that and says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

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