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Iran's President Hits Back At Rivals In Final TV Debate
By Golnaz Esfandiari
Iranian President Hassan Rohani has hit out at his two main conservative challengers, who accuse him of mismanagement, corruption, and failing to improve the economy following a landmark 2015 nuclear accord with world powers.
The attacks and tit-for-tat accusations came during the third and final presidential debate aired live on Iran's state-controlled television on May 12 ahead of the vote on May 19.
Rohani, a relative moderate who is seeking a second term, accused his rivals -- hard-line cleric Ebrahim Raisi and Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf -- of leveling baseless accusations against him and making unrealistic promises.
Raisi said that under Rohani, the number of poor Iranians had increased.
"Poverty has increased with this government from 23 percent to 33 percent [of the population]," Raisi said, while at the same time accusing Rohani of increasing subsidies and aid to the poor during the election season to win votes.
Qalibaf, meanwhile, accused Rohani and his team of poor management.
"Why can't we run the country better despite all of our resources? Because we don't have effective management, and corruption doesn't allow it," Qalibaf said.
Rohani, who oversaw the 2015 nuclear deal under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear activities in return for the lifting of international sanctions, vowed to remove all remaining sanctions and decrease the country's inflation rate.
"I will engage myself in lifting all the non-nuclear sanctions during the coming four years," he said.
Raisi and Qalibaf both accused Rohani's relatives of corruption. Hard-liners opposing the Iranian president have in recent months accused his brother, Hossein Feridun, of corruption, and called on the judiciary to put him on trial.
"The head of the government is being told that the closest person to him is engaged in corruption," Raisi said while adding that Rohani had been resisting calls for action.
Rohani, who's become increasingly combative in recent days, hit back at Raisi, while highlighting his record with the hard-line judiciary, which is seen as a main tool of repression in the Islamic republic.
"You can make any accusations you want against me. You're a judge, your [options] are open, you can do anything you want," Rohani told Raisi, who has held senior posts in the judiciary.
Rohani also blasted Raisi over his role in the Special Court for Clergy that prosecutes clerics accused of wrongdoing.
"You're also prosecutor of the Special Court for Clergy, you can detain any cleric. We have to ask clerics what they have gone through at your hands," the Iranian president said.
Rohani said that security services were supporting Raisi, who runs Iran's wealthiest state charity. Raisi is said to be close to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Qalibaf accused Rohani and Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, who is also running for president, of misusing their power to engage in corrupt land deals.
Rohani and Jahangiri both dismissed the accusations, with the president firing back at Qalibaf and telling him to look into actions by his relatives. Rohani hinted at an unpublished file apparently detailing accusations against Qalibaf.
"The 2005 Qalibaf file was in my hands, and I blocked its publication. If I had allowed its publication, you would not be here today," Rohani said, without elaborating.
"There's no need for you to speak about other people's assets. The judiciary is [informed] about all my properties," Rohani added.
He also reminded Qalibaf that in the past he had called for a crackdown on students protesting for more rights.
Reacting to the debate on Twitter, Ali Vaez, an Iran analyst at the International Crisis Group, said that Iranian leaders were washing their dirty laundry in public.
"This is so much fun, but also shows corruption is endemic," Vaez said.
Jahangiri called on Iranians to vote to prevent military conflict in the region.
"Warmongers have taken power in the world. We have to banish the threat of war from Iran," he said.
We'll have a news wrap-up of the debate's bigger moments in a few minutes.
The third and final presidential debate is over. Thanks for following.