Jewish Iranian woman votes in elections - Reuters - March 2 2011
A Jewish woman casts her ballot during the parliamentary election in Tehran, March 2, 2012. Photo by Reuters
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Iran's state-run television network IRIB said there has been a huge turnout Friday in the first three hours of parliamentary elections.

But witnesses in several parts of the capital Tehran said they could not confirm such high attendance figures - and said that people were busier with preparations for the Persian New Year on March 21.

IRIB had allocated five of its channels for live election coverage, with newscasters constantly calling on people to go to the polls "for the sake of their country."

"The elections this time are a big test and should neutralize enemy plots against our Islamic country," said one IRIB news channel.

Voting began in Iran's parliamentary election on Friday, with more than 3,400 candidates competing for 290 seats in the legislative body.

According to the Interior Ministry, 48.2 million eligible voters in the country of 74 million people would have a chance to cast their ballots by 1430 GMT. Voting could however be extended by up to four hours.

Meanwhile, An Iranian election official said Friday that ten "saboteurs" had been arrested and detained in Tehran, Fars news agency reported.

"We have so far arrested and detained ten saboteurs who had come from abroad to Tehran," said the head of the election security department, Mohammad-Naqi Baqeri.

The security official at the Tehran governor's office did not clarify what sabotage acts the ten had planned, but said security agents were closely watching all elements linked to foreign circles.

The main race is between the so-called principalists, the conservative faction loyal to the Islamic establishment, and the wing to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The conservatives blame the Ahmadinejad wing for poor economic policies and for having distanced itself from the Islamic system with nationalistic slogans.

A reformist wing is also in the race but seen to have little chance in the election. The hard core of reformists, accused by the establishment as having turned into dissidents, have boycotted the polls citing lack of freedom for all political parties.

The outcome of the election is unlikely to change the basic policies of the Islamic state or alter Tehran's uncompromising stance in its dispute with Western powers who suspect it of building a nuclear weapon.

But the election is a first test for Ahmadinejad, following his re-election in 2009, in a poll was overshadowed by allegations of fraud that led to street protests.

The Interior Ministry has not given a date for the release of a final parliamentary election result but said the process of counting votes has partly been computerized.