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Moderate Aref Quits Iran Presidential Race

Mohammad Reza Aref (center) and his wife during campaigning
Mohammad Reza Aref, a relative moderate candidate in Iran's presidential election later this week, has announced he is quitting the race.

The move appears to represent an effort by Iran's beleaguered opposition to unite behind a single candidate, and leaves the field for the June 14 vote at six.

SHORTLIST of Iran's approved presidential candidates

Aref's move follows the withdrawal on June 10 of another presidential hopeful, conservative former parliamentary speaker Gholam Ali Haddad-Adel.

Aref said on his website that moderate former President Mohammad Khatami, under whom he had held senior positions in the late 1990s and early 2000s, had asked him to withdraw.

FULL COVERAGE: Iran Election 2013

The announcement followed calls in recent days from reformers for Aref to withdraw from the race so supporters could throw their support behind moderate candidate Hassan Rohani.

The other abortive candidate, Haddad-Adel, was seen as close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Most of the remaining candidates for the June 14 vote are considered to be conservative backers of the current leadership.

The powerful Guardians Council had whittled nearly 700 applicants down to the shortlist of eight, discarding all female would-be candidates, reformist former President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and outgoing President Mahmud Ahmadinejad choice Mohsen Rezai.

Based on reporting by AFP, Reuters, and RFE/RL