Tehran: Supporters of a coalition of reformists and backers of President Hassan Rouhani held their first joint rally in Tehran as thousands of Iranian candidates Thursday launched their election campaigns ahead of the country's Feb 26 parliamentary elections.
Hundreds of demonstrators, men and women, young and old gathered in a public hall in central Tehran, chanting "reforms will be the winner of the elections."
When the head of the coalition list in Tehran, Mohammad Reza Aref, and his wife arrived in the hall, cheerful participants welcomed him as if he were a presidential candidate.
Aref, who served as vice-president under reformist Mohammad Khatami, Iran's president from 1997 until 2005, responded with a smile and raised a hand to the crowd.
"Viva reforms, long live Khatami," the crowd chanted. Many at the rally held a turquoise ribbon, the official campaign color, in their hands.
Khatami, who is popular among young people and women, last week urged his supporters to vote even though the election watchdog, the Guardian Council, barred many prominent reformists from running in the election.
During the gathering, Elahe Koulaei, one of the female candidates, called the election a "second step" after the 2013 victory of Rouhani, a moderate within Iran's political system.
"A wise parliament should be formed by women and men" during the coming elections, she said, in a reference to the mostly male hard-liners' presence in the current parliament.
Aref also appealed to women, saying he will strive to "upgrade the position of women across the political system, including executive and legislative positions."
The crowd on occasion chanted for the lifting of the ban on opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under house arrest since 2011. Mousavi's detention came after opposition members denounced the 2009 re-election of then-President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as fraudulent.
State media reported today that over 6,200 candidates who have been approved to run, including 586 women, began a one-week campaign for a place in the country's 290-seat parliament.