(Updates throughout)


Hassan Rohani, the only moderate-reformist candidate in Iran's presidential election, has secured a surprising first-round victory after garnering more than 50 percent of the ballots, Interior Minister Mostafa Mohammad Najjar said Saturday.

Rohani, who was backed by two reformist ex-presidents, Mohammad Khatami and Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, defeated four ultra-conservative candidates and a technocrat who finished in last place.

Rohani obtained 18,613,329 votes out of 35,458,747 valid votes cast on Friday, according to Najjar, who put turnout at 72.7 percent.

Analysts said Rohani had succeeded in mobilizing a large portion of reform-minded Iranians who had initially been reluctant to vote after a harsh crackdown on street protests following the 2009 presidential balloting, which they claimed was rigged.

The victory by Rohani, who will succeed two-term incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, could usher in significant changes in Iran's foreign and economic policy and lead to expanded rights for women in the Islamic nation, although there are many restrictions on presidential power and foreign and nuclear policy is determined by Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Rohani, a pragmatic cleric who was secretary of Iran's Supreme Council on National Security and a nuclear negotiator, became the clear choice for reformists after former Vice President Mohammad Reza Aref dropped out of the presidential race.

The ultra-conservative mayor of Tehran, Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, finished a distant second with just 6,077,292 votes. EFE