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Iran Presidential Candidates Clash On Economic Crisis In First Debate

A pedestrian walks by a poster of judiciary chief and presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi in Tehran on June 1.

Iran's presidential candidates on June 5 traded accusations over the country's economic crisis during their first debate ahead of the June 18 election.

The three-hour televised debate was the first of three in the run-up to the election, which comes amid widespread discontent over a deep economic crisis caused by the reimposition of sanctions after the United States pulled out of the 2015 nuclear deal.

Iran's conservative-dominated Guardians Council approved seven candidates -- five ultraconservative and two reformists -- to run from a field of about 600 hopefuls.

The five ultraconservative candidates attacked the eight-year tenure of incumbent President Hassan Rohani and called on central bank chief Abdolnaser Hemmati, the leading moderate candidate, to take responsibility for the economic crisis.

"Mr. Hemmati, your governance was catastrophic, you are sitting here as a representative of Mr. Rohani," said Mohsen Rezai, a former chief of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC).

Hemmati blamed the hard-liners for heightened tensions with the West that he said had worsened Iran’s economic woes. He also took aim at their economic plans, saying their pledges of massive direct financial aid were "unrealizable."

The ultraconservative judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi, who took 38 percent of the vote in the 2017 presidential election, avoided direct clashes with the reformists as he focused on the economy.

"Inflation is one of the serious problems people are facing today. The price of basic products has gone up considerably," he said, adding that the "dishonesty of certain officials" was one of the main worries of the Iranian people.

Raisi rejected the comments of candidates who blame U.S. sanctions for Iran's economic troubles and who say that without proper management the country would have been worse off.

"This is like a goalkeeper who lets in 17 goals...and then says without me it would have been 30 goals!" said Raisi, who holds a doctorate in Islamic law.

The decision last month by the Guardians Council to exclude prominent moderate candidates put Raisi in a dominant position in the field of candidates.

Rohani, a relative moderate whose government is taking part in talks to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, has served two consecutive four-year terms and cannot seek reelection.

Rohani is Iran's main architect of the 2015 nuclear agreement. The talks to revive the nuclear deal have been taking place in Vienna since early April.

With reporting by Reuters and AFP
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