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Presidential Election Becoming a Heated Contest in Iran

June 10, 2009 at 6:35 PM EDT

JIM LEHRER: Next, an Iranian election preview, as Friday’s presidential election turns into a real contest. We have a report from Lindsey Hilsum of Independent Television News in Tehran.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The supporters of President Ahmadinejad and those of his main rival, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, every night they face off in the center of Tehran.

One of the youngest invokes the prophet on behalf of Ahmadinejad.

“Mousavi is the greatest. He’s cool,” counter his rivals. A clash of ideals and beliefs out in the open, on the streets.

The president’s supporters filled the capital’s largest mosque, shouting the old slogans, “Death to America.” They waited three hours, but he never came.

Today, he made it to Tehran’s central Freedom Square, the crowd just as large and enthusiastic. Senior clerics have criticized him for making harsh attacks on Mr. Mousavi and his backers. But with just two days to go, the president wasn’t holding back.

MAHMOUD AHMADINEJAD, president of Iran (through translator): We do not insult and slander. We have logic. God willing, our logic will beat all the insults, slanders, and immoralities.

LINDSEY HILSUM: His supporters crowd round to tell me why they love him so.

IRANIAN CITIZEN: All these people want — want Islamic republic, not liberal democracy.

IRANIAN CITIZEN (through translator): First of all, he’s brave. He’s the follower of Imam Ali. And he doesn’t fear Obama, Bush, or any foreign country or traitor.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The campaign video portrays him as a patriot, presenting trophies to national sporting stars, defending the country.

At night, the streets of wealthy north Tehran are taken over by the opposition, Mousavi’s supporters. Their color is green.

IRANIAN CITIZENS: Mousavi! Mousavi!

LINDSEY HILSUM: The Mousavi supporters are just as enthusiastic as those of Ahmadinejad, but they have a vision of a very different Iran, one where there are no morality police on the streets telling women to wear their headscarves and one with a slightly more compromising face to the outside world.

Mousavi also attracts huge crowds. He’s mobilized the youth, but has important establishment backers, too, whom Ahmadinejad has accused of corruption. Mousavi says his opponent should address the people’s problems, not hurl corruption allegations at others.

MIR-HOSSEIN MOUSAVI, Iranian Presidential Candidate (through translator): Instead of working for the people to control inflation, create jobs for the youth, and counter drug addiction, he’s just making false accusations against others.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The older man has adopted a more modern style. He campaigns hand in hand with his wife, Zahra Rahnavard. When I met her later, she said she and her husband would improve women’s rights.

ZAHRA RAHNAVARD, Mir-Hossein Mousavi’s wife (through translator): If we allow them, our women and young women will choose for themselves what’s best to wear and how to behave. The government of Mousavi will support the young generation and the women of the future.

LINDSEY HILSUM: The Mousavi supporters certainly have a different take on the hijab, the headscarf, although not everyone wants to be caught on camera. They want a new image for their country, a better relationship with the rest of the world.

“Honk if you’re hoping for change.” This is a chance to let off steam, freedom, just for a moment.

President Ahmadinejad is still the favorite, but upsets do happen in Iranian elections, and Mir-Hossein Mousavi and his green campaign could yet cause one.