Bombs kill 8, wound 75 in Iran before election
AHVAZ, Iran (Reuters) - Bombs killed eight people and wounded 75 in Iran on Sunday in a rare string of attacks five days before a presidential election.
Security is tight in the Islamic republic, where bombings have been almost unheard of in the past decade.
Four bombs in Ahvaz, capital of the partly Arabic-speaking province of Khuzestan, where most of Iran's oil reserves lie, targeted government buildings, killing seven people, provincial officials said.
Hours later, a bomb in the capital Tehran killed one person.
In the Ahvaz blasts, two of the dead were women, and 70 people were wounded, the officials said. Ethnic unrest claimed five lives in Khuzestan in April.
The Popular Democratic Front of Ahvaz, which is campaigning for an independent Khuzestan, denied it was behind the attacks, but said another Arab group calling itself the Ahvazi Revolutionary Martyrs' Brigades had claimed responsibility.
The Tehran bomb was hidden in a rubbish bin. Apart from the person killed, five people were wounded, Ali Aghamohammadi, spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council, said.
The dead man, 65-year-old Asghar Fattahi, had been waiting for a bus near Imam Hossein square in a crowded district.
"I was two blocks away when I heard a giant explosion. What's going on? First in Ahvaz and now in Tehran?" said a telecommunications worker, who gave his name only as Omid.
There was no immediate word on who had carried out the Tehran bombing or whether it was linked to the attacks in Ahvaz.
The bombs in Ahvaz, 550 km (340 miles) southwest of Tehran, targeted the governor's office, as well as two local government departments and a housing complex for state media employees.
A pool of blood stained the floor of a waiting room at the governor's office, where the explosion destroyed ceilings and smashed windows. The mangled wreckage of a car which might have carried the bomb lay in the street nearby.
EXILED DISSIDENTS BLAMED
About 150 demonstrators protested outside the governor's office in the evening, waving Iranian flags and chanting "Death to the hypocrites" -- a term used for the exiled opposition People's Mujahideen Organization.
"Based on intelligence we received, a network was trying to create problems before the election," Aghamohammadi said.
He blamed unidentified opposition groups who had called for a boycott of the elections and suggested infiltrators had come from parts of neighboring Iraq under U.S.-British control.
Aghamohammadi said it appeared that some of the infiltrators belonged to the People's Mujahideen. U.S. forces took control of the group's bases in Iraq after the 2003 invasion.
The bombings have rattled Iranians ahead of the elections, in which Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is favorite in opinion polls to regain the post he held from 1989 to 1997.
Rafsanjani, a wily pragmatist seen as the most moderate of five conservative candidates, remains well short of the 50 percent support he needs to avoid a run-off vote.
A poll published on Saturday showed that Mostafa Moin, one of three reformists in the race, had edged ahead of former police chief Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf into second place.
With an international row over Iran's nuclear plans weighing on the election, Rafsanjani has said Iran must pursue measures to reassure the West it has no military nuclear ambitions.
"The most important issue is building confidence. We are determined to build confidence," he told reporters on Saturday.
Tehran has suspended its uranium enrichment program, which could produce fuel for power plants or weapons, under a November deal with France, Britain and Germany, which have offered Iran incentives to end and dismantle the project.
The European trio shares U.S. suspicions that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons. They say the only way Tehran can allay these suspicions is to abandon all enrichment activities. (Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Christian Oliver)