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Iran holds parliamentary elections amid growing international tension

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An Iranian wearing a "God Bless America" t-shirt votes in Iran parliamentary elections March 2, 2012. (Mehr News …

Tense and economically beleaguered Iranians were implored by clerical leaders to head to parliamentary polls Friday in the first elections the country has held since its widely disputed 2009 presidential elections that sparked mass protests and a subsequent crackdown.

"A turnout as big as Iran," was a headline on state television, Reuters reported.

Iranian reformist parties were urging their supporters to boycott Friday's polls, which an aide to one imprisoned Iranian opposition leader declared a "farce" in an op-ed in the New York Times Friday.

Despite the scorn and apathy of the reformists, Iranian clerics and conservatives were imploring Iranian citizens to deliver a big turnout on Friday, declaring it a crucial show of national defiance against the international alliance pressuring Iran to curb its nuclear program.

"Once again, the Revolutionary Guards and the Basij militia are busy preparing, as they have in the past, to drag men in uniform and their families to the ballot box with prepared lists of the votes they should cast," Ardeshir Amir-Arjomand, spokesman for the Iranian opposition green movement, and an adviser to opposition leader and former Iranian prime minister Mir Hussein Moussavi, wrote in the New York Times Friday in the same op-ed.

"The apathy of Iranians today is rooted in the contested nature and violent aftershocks of the 2009 election," he continued. "With most of the democratic opposition's prominent figures, including Mr. Moussavi and Mr. Karroubi, languishing in prison or under house arrest on trumped-up charges, reformist parties have announced that they do not recognize the legitimacy of a sham election."

The elections come as Iran's economy is under intense strain from new U.S. and European economic sanctions preventing Iran from securing revenues from oil sales.

President Barack Obama--under concerted pressure from Israeli leaders to use military force against Iran if it does not curb its nuclear program--defended his policy toward Iran as tough and effective in an interview Friday.

"As president of the United States, I don't bluff," Obama told The Atlantic's Jeffrey Goldberg ahead of his meeting at the White House Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "I think both the Iranian and the Israeli governments recognize that when the United States says it is unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon, we mean what we say."

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