The profile of Iran's (search) new parliament took shape Sunday, with an outcome that the opposition had said was all but preordained: a hard-line core, even in the liberal bastion of Tehran (search).

There were fewer women and apparent gains for lawmakers holding atomic science backgrounds. One conservative leader said the new parliament may try to play a more prominent role in foreign policy and the nuclear sphere as the Islamic state confronts suspicions that it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

The results from the Friday election had been widely expected after hard-liners barred more than 2,400 candidates, many of them reformers, from participating. Liberals had called for a nationwide voting boycott to spoil he conservatives' victory.

Turnout appeared to hover at around 50 percent, Interior Ministry sources said on condition of anonymity. More than 67 percent of voters turned out in the last parliament elections in 2000 in a pro-reform landslide.

The conservative bloc -- a mix of hard-liners and others considered loyal to the ruling clerics -- had won at least 135 seats in the 290-member chamber, according to Interior Ministry figures. In Tehran, previously a liberal stronghold, the conservatives were firmly in the lead. Reformers and self-described independents had about 65 seats overall.

That put conservatives on the threshold of the 146 seats needed to claim a majority. The final tally was not expected until at least Monday.

The nuclear questions could be the first serious test of the restored bonds between the leadership and parliament.

The United States suspects Iran of conducting a secret program to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies the accusations and insists it seeks only energy-producing reactors.

U.N. nuclear investigators also are looking into the extent of Iran's weapons-making capabilities and past links with Pakistan's nuclear pioneer, Abdul Qadeer Khan (search), who has admitted selling technology and know-how.

The main conservative faction poised to dominate parliament has brought several nuclear specialists into its ranks. The move by the Abadgaran Iran-e-Islami, or Developers of Islamic Iran, could be an effort to gain a greater voice in the nuclear talks.

Currently, nuclear issues are directed by the Islamic regime led by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Abadgaran leader Gholamali Haddadadel, who has been assured a seat in the new parliament, told The Associated Press that he hopes the legislature can develop "a more credible voice" on issues such as nuclear development and foreign policy.

Haddadadel, whose daughter is married to Khamenei's son, also said his party will use its nuclear experts and others to speak against "U.S. pressure" on the IAEA. The United States accuses Iran of pursuing nuclear weapons.

Iranian lawmakers have very little room to make independent policies or initiatives. But the liberals will be denied an important forum to challenge the non-elected clerical establishment that has final say in almost all affairs.

At least three new lawmakers in the conservative bloc have nuclear technology backgrounds, including engineer Hamid Reza Katouzian. He was among the students who seized the U.S. Embassy after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

"We may see the hard-liners trying to get more involved on the nuclear front," said Ehsan Ahrari, an international affairs commentator based in Norfolk, Va.

The new parliament will probably have far fewer women lawmakers. With nearly two-thirds of the seats decided, no woman had secured a place. But three women candidates with the conservatives in Tehran appeared close to victory. Eleven women were in the outgoing legislature.

Election-related violence has claimed at least eight lives and injured 38 others in towns in southern Iran, a local official said.

In Firouzabad, about 620 miles south of Tehran, violence broke out late Saturday after backers of a losing candidate claimed the voting was rigged. At least three people were killed, said Shah Hasani, an official at the provincial governor's office.

Hasani said one person was killed during polling in Nourabab Mamassani, another town in southern Iran. He said the clashes were between rival ethnic groups.

Late Sunday, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported a clash that killed four people in Izeh, a southwestern city in the province of Khuzestan. Police arrested 30 people. The agency did not say when the clash occurred.