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Iran's supreme leader rules Ahmadinejad out of presidential bid

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tells state media election bid by former president 'not in the interest' of the country
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stands in front of an image of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (AFP)
By Reuters

Iran's supreme leader has told the conservative former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad not to stand again in next year's presidential elections, state media reported on Monday, effectively eliminating a major challenger to incumbent Hassan Rouhani.

Ahmadinejad had not announced any plans to run in the vote scheduled for May, but has made several speeches in recent months, prompting speculation of a political comeback.

Commentators had suggested the firebrand populist, who frequently enraged the West with his rhetoric during his eight years in office, would have given Iran's conservatives their best chance of regaining power.

But the instruction by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reported by state news agency IRNA, effectively destroys his chances of getting the wider backing he would need to run a successful campaign.

"He (Ahmadinejad) came to me and I told him not to stand as I think it is not in his interest and that of the country," Khamenei was quoted as saying.

"It will create bipolar opposites and divisions in the country which I believe is harmful," Khamenei added.

Rouhani's popularity surged after last year's deal with world powers that lifted most sanctions on Iran in exchange for curbs on its nuclear programme.

Another potential rival - Revolutionary Guard Commander Qassem Soleimani, the most high-profile face in the fight against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria - said this month he would not stand in the vote.

Ahmadinejad was first elected president in 2005. His disputed win in the 2009 election prompted the Islamic Republic's biggest protests and a security crackdown in which dozens of people were killed and hundreds were arrested.

Iranian law bars a president from seeking a third consecutive term. But Ahmadinejad would have been able to run again after the gap caused by Rouhani's term.

Several conservative figures interpreted his words as a rebuke to the controversial former president who led the country until the 2013 presidential election.

"Mr Ahmadinejad must be very thankful and grateful for the leader's advice and he will definitely listen to this advice and not run for the election, and will be of service to people in some other position," said Mohammad Gharavian, a cleric in the holy city of Qom, according to ISNA news agency.

This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.

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