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Hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi has taken a big lead in Iran’s presidential election and his rivals have conceded defeat, according to state TV.

Mr Raisi has taken an unassailable lead in the election, winning 17.8 million votes, an interior ministry official said.

His closest rival, Mohsen Rezaei, a senior conservative general, won just 3.3 million votes, while the sole reformist candidate, Abdolnaser Hemmati, a former central bank governor, took 2.4 million votes.

Mr Raisi’s victory means hardliners will have full control over all branches of government in Iran for the first time in almost a decade, after ultraconservatives took a majority in last year’s parliamentary elections.

Mr Raisi, a 60-year-old Shi’ite cleric who is subject to US sanctions for alleged human rights abuses, had been widely tipped to win the contest, in large part due to the support he had from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani recently said Iran would abide by the agreement if the US and other countries did
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Iran’s outgoing president Hassan Rouhani will vacate the position in August

And on Saturday, Mr Raisi’s only moderate rival congratulated him.

“I hope your administration, under the leadership of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, will make the Islamic Republic proud, improve livelihood and ensure the nation’s wellbeing and welfare,” Mr Hemmati was quoted as saying in a letter.

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In a televised speech, outgoing president Hassan Rouhani congratulated “the people’s elected (president)”, without naming him.

“Because it has not been officially announced yet, I will delay the official congratulations. But it is clear who received the votes,” Mr Rouhani said.

Iran’s president is the second highest ranking official in the country, after the supreme leader.

Mr Raisi is a harsh critic of the West and has presented himself as the best candidate to fight corruption and improve Iran’s economic problems.

A supporter of Ebrahim Raisi holds a poster of him during an rally in Tehran
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A supporter of Ebrahim Raisi holds a poster of him during a rally in Tehran

The election was held at a crucial time for the republic and the region – with US President Joe Biden’s administration seeking to ease tensions in the Middle East, which were inflamed by former president Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw the US from the nuclear accord and impose sanctions on Iran in 2018.

Mr Raisi remains committed to continuing negotiations with the deal’s remaining signatories – the UK, France, Germany, Russia and China.

But he previously said domestic policies would be his key priority, notably reviving an economy crippled by US sanctions and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Mr Raisi is considered a potential candidate for replace Mr Khamenei, who served as president twice before being appointed in Iran’s most powerful position.

Mr Raisi lost in his previous run for president in 2017, but was this time boosted by the support from the supreme leader and a lack of choice of other candidates.

A hardline election body, the Guardian Council, barred moderate and conservative candidates from standing in the elections.

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Two bodies found in search for missing TV presenter Jesse Baird and his partner

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Two bodies found in search for missing TV presenter Jesse Baird and his partner

Two bodies have been found in the search for a missing Australian TV presenter and his partner, who were allegedly killed by a police officer.

Jesse Baird, 26, and his flight attendant partner Luke Davies, 29, were allegedly shot dead in Mr Baird’s Sydney home last week.

Beau Lamarre-Condon, a police officer who was in a relationship with Mr Baird until late last year, was charged on Friday with the murders of both men.

Police said Lamarre-Condon provided them with information that led them to the bodies, which were found in a rural area around 124 miles southwest of Sydney.

The New South Wales force allege the 28-year-old officer and ex-celebrity blogger killed the couple at Mr Baird’s home in the Paddington area of the city on Monday and hired a white van to dispose of their bodies. Neighbours reportedly heard an argument at the property that morning.

Mr Baird was a presenter with Network 10 until December. Mr Davies was a Qantas flight attendant.

Flowers laid outside Jesse Baird's home in Sydney. Pic: AP
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Flowers laid outside Jesse Baird’s home in Sydney. Pic: AP

The Mardi Gras board said LGBT+ communities across Australia had been devastated by the loss of the couple, who had planned to celebrate at the annual parade on Saturday.

The incident has prompted Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras organisers to ask police not to march on the weekend, a move the police commissioner urges them to reconsider.

The board said police presence could “add to the distress within our communities”, which are “already deeply affected by recent events”.

Karen Webb (second left) waving as she marched in the 2023 Mardi Gras parade in Sydney. Pic: AP
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Karen Webb (second left) waving as she marched in the 2023 Mardi Gras parade in Sydney. Pic: AP

“This decision was not made lightly, especially considering that many… police members who participate in the parade are also members of the LGBTQIA+ community and are navigating the impact of this tragedy alongside us,” the board added.

“However, we believe that their participation at this year’s event could intensify the current feelings of sorrow and distress.”

The alleged killer has been part of the parade in the past, the board said.

Police Commissioner Karen Webb, who has taken part in the annual march since 2006, said she will meet with the organisers in a bid to reverse their decision.

“We’re not dealing with a gay hate crime here,” she said. “We’re dealing with a domestic homicide and… I’m disappointed [by] the position that Mardi Gras board has taken on this issue.”

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She added this time “more than any in our society” is “time to come together”.

We’re talking about inclusion, we’re talking about diversity and to exclude part of that community, I think, sends a wrong message,” she added.

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Israel-Hamas war: Joe Biden says he hopes Gaza ceasefire can be agreed ‘by end of the weekend’

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Israel-Hamas war: Joe Biden says he hopes Gaza ceasefire can be agreed 'by end of the weekend'

Joe Biden has said he hopes a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas can be secured by the weekend.

The US president made the remarks during an unannounced visit to the Van Leeuwen ice cream parlour, next door to 30 Rock in New York, on Monday.

Flanked by late night TV show host Seth Meyers, Mr Biden was asked by reporters on when a ceasefire in Gaza could start.

In a surprise turn, he said that he hopes it will take place “by the end of the weekend”.

“My national security advisor (Jake Sullivan) tells me that we’re close, we’re close, we’re not done yet,” he said. “My hope is by next Monday we’ll have a ceasefire.”

Mr Biden’s comments come as Israel prepares to start a military operation in Rafah – which he has warned against without a “credible” plan to protect civilians.

Pic: AP
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The US president made the remarks during an unannounced visit to the Van Leeuwen ice cream parlour, New York. Pic: AP

Israel has said it will go ahead with an offensive on the city if hostages are not returned by 10 March, which is when Ramadan starts.

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According to NBC News, Sky news’ US partner network, Qatar is mediating talks between Israel and Hamas this week, and ceasefire negotiations have taken place between US, Israeli, Qatari and Egyptian officials in Paris.

Should it happen, it would be the second ceasefire following one in November which saw several hundred Palestinians released from Israeli jails and about 100 hostages freed by Hamas.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said earlier on Monday that the Israeli Defence Force proposed a plan for the evacuation of civilians from “fighting areas” to the country’s war cabinet.

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Alexei Navalny was set to be part of prison swap before he died, claims ally

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Alexei Navalny was set to be part of prison swap before he died, claims ally

Alexei Navalny was set to be freed as part of a prisoner swap when he died, one of his allies has claimed.

The Russian opposition leader died at a penal colony within the Artic Circle on 16 February, while serving a 19-year prison sentence on charges his supporters said were politically motivated.

It has now been claimed that the prisoner-swap talks were in their “final stages” when Mr Navalny died.

In a video posted on the late Kremlin critic’s YouTube channel, Maria Pevchikh – who lives outside Russia – said: “Alexei Navalny could have been sitting here now, today. It’s not a figure of speech.”

Ms Pevchikh said she received confirmation about the talks just one day before Mr Navalny’s death was announced.

Ukraine-Russia latest: Kremlin dismisses peace talks as ‘laughable’

She claimed that Putin “wouldn’t tolerate” Navalny being freed and decided to “get rid of the bargaining chip”. She has not offered evidence to back up the allegation.

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The circumstances of Mr Navalny’s death remain unclear – but several world leaders, including Joe Biden, have directly blamed Vladimir Putin and the Russian government.

Mr Navalny’s widow Yulia Navalnaya has also pointed the finger at the Russian president, claiming her husband could have been poisoned with novichok.

The Kremlin has repeatedly denied any involvement in his death.

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Ms Pevchikh said Mr Navalny and two US citizens held in Russia, whom she has not identified, were supposed to be swapped for Vadim Krasikov.

Krasikov is serving a life sentence in Germany for the 2019 killing of Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, a 40-year-old Georgian citizen of Chechen descent.

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There are several US citizens in custody in Russia, including Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich, who was arrested on espionage charges, and Paul Whelan, a corporate security executive from Michigan, convicted of espionage.

Both men and the US government dispute the charge.

When asked about the swap claim at a regular news conference in Berlin, German government spokesperson Christiane Hoffmann said she could not comment.

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