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Ahmadinejad rivals gain upper hand; Conservative foes consolidate power

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's support in Iran's parliament crumbled as final results released Saturday showed conservative rivals consolidating their hold on the legislative body in a runoff vote.

Iran has touted a robust turnout for Friday's vote as a show of support for the country's religious leadership in its confrontation with the West over the Islamic Republic's controversial nuclear program.

The result is also a new humiliation for Ahmadinejad, whose political decline started last year with his bold but failed challenge of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei over the choice of intelligence chief.

While usually in agreement with the conservatives on foreign policy and many other issues, he had tried to change the rules of the political game in Iran, where the president and legislature are subordinate to religious figures like Khamenei.

Ahmadinejad's opponents had already won an outright majority in the 290-member legislature in the first round of voting in March. Of 65 seats up for grabs in Friday's runoff election, Ahmadinejad's opponents won 41 while the president's supporters got only 13 seats. Independents won 11, according to final results reported Saturday by state media.

There were no claims of irregularities -- which touched off the huge protests in 2009 after accusations the results were rigged.

Iran's major reformist parties, which oppose both Ahmadinejad and the conservatives, mostly did not field candidates.

The president's supporters had their best showing in the capital, Tehran. Ahmadinejad's conservative critics won 16 seats while his supporters took nine.

The new parliament will begin its sessions in late May. It has no direct control over key foreign and security policy matters like Iran's nuclear program, but it can influence those issues and economic policies as well as the run-up to the election of Ahmadinejad's successor. Ahmadinejad is constitutionally barred from seeking a third consecutive four-year term.

The results suggest Ahmadinejad will face a more belligerent parliament in the remaining time of his second four-year term in office that ends August 2013. His allies are likely to be ousted from key posts.

"The vote is support for the ruling system as it faces the U.S. and its allies over the nuclear program The vote also means that tensions will increase between Ahmadinejad and his opponents in the incoming parliament," political analyst Ali Reza Khamesian said.

The West suspects Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons and is demanding that Iran stop uranium enrichment. Iran has refused, saying its program is aimed at power generation and cancer treatment.