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The June 7 televised debate between the two presidential candidates from the reformist camp, Mir Hossein Musavi and Mehdi Karrubi, turned into a opportunity for both candidates to sound off against Iran's incumbent President Mahmud Ahmadinejad -- rather than do much debating of each other.

Both candidates accused Ahmadinejad of lying and said they decided to stand because they felt Iran is in danger.

Karrubi started the debate by "defending himself" against the accusations made the previous night by Ahmadinejad. (In a face-to-face debate, the incumbent accused Karrubi of being corrupt.)

Karrubi then read from a prepared speech and said that so many lies have been told that "maybe true words won't be believed anymore."

Ahmadinejad's main challenger Musavi also worked the lying theme. "There is nothing worse than when the leadership lies to the people," he said.

He also said Ahmadinejad was a surprising phenomenon who says black is white and that two times two makes not four but 10.

Musavi then challenged some of the figures Ahmadinejad had mentioned during the previous debate, including the inflation rate which Ahmadinejad has said is currently 15 percent.

He apparently came well prepared, showing an Iranian central bank chart that indicated the inflation rate was actually more like 25 percent.

"Is the presidential chair worth lying to the people?" asked Musavi.

What was surprising about the debate was to see the normally placid Musavi getting angry. (Watch the video here, in Persian.)

The moment came when the moderator told Musavi that Ahmadinejad, "the absent candidate," is not present and that Musavi should talk about his election program.

"You really surprise me," Musavi snapped. "Why don't you say anything when others are sitting here, you don't give warnings.... [Ahmadinejad] comes here and lies and no one does anything about it. I am a revolutionary and I'm talking here to protest the situation he has created here. If this wasn't the case I wouldn't want to come and [get involved in politics] again. I would be doing my cultural work."

So again, a debate that wasn't really a debate.

In fact, there was perhaps only one debate-like moment when Karrubi asked Musavi whether he would be ready to face problems and difficulties if elected. Musavi pointed to his term as Iran's prime minister during the war with Iraq in the 1980s.

"For eight years I withstood war, tanks, and shells and political movements that were against me. I am the same person. I haven't changed. I was a strong man then and I am the same person now."

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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