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Rouhani warns voters to prevent ‘extremism’ returning to Iran

Originally published on Middle East Monitor

FILE- In this Friday, April 14, 2017 file photo, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani smiles as he attends at the Interior Ministry to register his candidacy for the May 19 presidential elections, in Tehran, Iran. Over 1,600 people registered to run. Under Iranian law, there’s no fee for registering. Hopefuls only must believe in Iran’s form of government and be Shiite Muslims. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi, File)

By Middle East Monitor

President Hassan Rouhani told Iranians on Saturday they could face greater authoritarianism if they replace him with a hardline rival in May’s election.

Rouhani was the surprise winner of the last presidential vote, in 2013, after eight years of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad whose re-election for a second term in 2009 caused mass protests and a severe security crackdown.

He now faces serious competition from hardliners, some of whom are close to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has criticised Rouhani’s economic record, saying his detente with the West and concessions on Iran’s nuclear work had yet to yield economic benefits.

Rouhani told a rally in the city of Yazd, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency:

We will not let them bring the security and police atmosphere back to the country…Iranians will prove to the world at the May 19 election that the era of violence, extremism and pressures in our country is over and Iran is pursuing the path of reason.

Iranian presidential candidate Ebrahim Raisi (R) speaks to supporters during an election rally in Tehran, Iran, 29 April 2017. Media reports that Raisi is the main contender against president Hassan Rouhani in the upcoming presidential elections. Iranians will go to the polls on 19 May 2017. EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH

Raisi, a close ally of Khamenei, was one of four judges who oversaw the execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988.Among Rouhani’s challengers are Ebrahim Raisi, an influential cleric with decades of experience in the hardline judiciary, and conservative Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, a former Revolutionary Guards commander.

Read: Who are the frontrunners in Iran’s presidential elections?

Rouhani still retains considerable support, especially among Iran’s large bloc of young, urban voters attracted to his vision of greater social freedoms and an end to Islamic clerical interference in their personal lives, analysts say.

However, human rights activists say his administration has achieved little on personal freedoms or freeing political prisoners and has been more focused on reducing Iran’s international isolation.

Rouhani said in a televised speech that “freedom is the most important issue for the Iranians” and that he had ordered the intelligence ministry not to “interfere in people’s privacy”.

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