TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's top leader has called for high turnout in Friday's presidential election, urging voters to send a message to the United States.
In a televised speech Wednesday, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the United States and its allies, including the "pathetic prime minister of the Zionist regime," or Israel, are closely watching the vote.
He called the election a "great popular epic," saying that while the region is "drowned in anxiety," Iran is "peacefully and safely holding an election."
President Hassan Rouhani, a moderate, is seeking re-election in a vote that will largely serve as a referendum on his outreach to the West, which culminated in the 2015 nuclear deal.
Khamenei, who will remain Iran's top decision-maker, is deeply suspicious of the United States. He is believed to favor Rouhani's main challenger, the hard-line candidate Ebrahim Raisi.
Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said turnout is expected to exceed 70 percent. Some 56.4 million people out of a population of 80 million are eligible to vote.
Fazli said the vote counting would commence after midnight and that the results would be announced "sooner" than in previous elections. In past elections, the results have been announced two days later, on Sunday.
Rouhani won the 2013 presidential election with nearly 51 percent of the vote. Turnout for that election was 73 percent.