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Former Ahmadinejad VP first to announce Iranian presidential candidacy

Hamid Baghaie, who said he would run as an independent, was imprisoned for seven months in 2015 for reasons never made public
A handout from the Iranian presidency shows Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (C) greeting supporters in Ardabil on 14 September, 2011 (AFP PHOTO / IRANIAN PRESIDENCY)
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A deputy of former Iranian hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced Saturday his decision to run in this year's presidential election, becoming the first candidate to contest the top job.

Hamid Baghaie, who was jailed in 2015, was Ahmadinejad's vice president for executive affairs and head of the tourism board.

He announced his candidacy in a statement saying he would run as an "independent" and describing himself as a "soldier" of the Islamic republic of Iran.

In 2015, Baghaie was arrested and imprisoned for seven months for reasons never made public.

His arrest came four years after he, and other government employees, were investigated for administrative irregularities during his tenure as head of the tourism board.

Ahmadinejad, whose re-election in 2009 was followed by one of the largest protests to hit Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution, in September ruled out a third presidential bid.

His stand-down came after advice from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who at the time said it was imperative to avoid a polarising effect in the country.

Ahmadinejad's two terms as president between 2005 and 2013 saw Iran increasingly isolated internationally, divided domestically and struggling economically.

Last week the hardline ex-president said he would not endorse any candidates in the May elections.

President Hassan Rouhani, who was elected in 2013 with support from moderates and reformists, is expected to run for a second term but has not made any such official announcement.

In a bid to counter Rouhani's re-election, Iran's conservative camp has formed a new political group called "Popular Front of the Islamic Republic Forces" aimed at uniting their ranks behind one candidate.

The Guardians Council, a conservative-dominated vetting body, must approve the candidates before they can run.