World News

Iran council approves main presidential candidates

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran’s constitutional watchdog approved on Wednesday the four leading candidates to stand in next month’s presidential vote, in which hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is seeking re-election.

Ahmadinejad and two leading moderate candidates, former premier Mirhossein Mousavi and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi, were cleared to run in the June 12 election along with the former head of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, Mohsen Rezai.

“The name of candidates ... approved by the council are as announced: Ahmadinejad, Karoubi, Mousavi and Mohsen Rezai,” said an Interior Ministry statement.

The 12-man hardline Guardian Council has the power to vet candidates for nationwide elections in Iran.

The four candidates were approved after being screened for their allegiance to Iran’s Islamic government system and “absolute obedience” to the country’s top authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Over 450 hopefuls had registered out of which 42 were women. No women passed the test to stand in the election.

Reformists believe a high turnout would give them a better chance to win the vote. But they say state media have not given sufficient coverage of the election to mobilize Iranian voters.

Ahmadinejad’s moderate rivals say his trips across Iran ahead of the authorized campaigning period are illegal and should be stopped. The government has refused to halt the trips. State radio and television deny being partial.

Iran’s Interior Minister Sadeq Mahsouli said the authorized campaign started from Wednesday.

“Candidates are allowed to start campaigning from this moment until 24 hours before the election starts,” he told reporters after the names of candidates were announced.

Some 46 million Iranians aged 18 years and older are eligible to vote in the polls, Iran’s tenth presidential election since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

The president regularly rails against the West and vows a return to Islamic revolutionary values. Khamenei has urged Iranians to support anti-Western candidates.

The three other candidates have said Iran needed to have interaction and “policy of detente” with the West, at odds with the Islamic state over its nuclear program.

Ahmadinejad came to power in 2005 vowing to share out oil wealth more fairly but critics blame him for disappointing economic growth and high inflation. However, his promises of a fairer redistribution of income still resonate with the poor.

Ahmadinejad’s only conservative rival, Rezai, has criticized the president’s “adventurous” foreign policy and his economic policy, saying Ahmadinejad would “drag the country over a cliff” if re-elected.

Rezai headed the Revolutionary Guards for 16 years until 1997.

Reporting by Zahra Hosseinian and Hossein Jasseb, Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Dominic Evans