IRAN

Iranian President will seek second term

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will contest Iran's June elections in an effort to retain his presidency for another four years, a close aide has revealed. The reformist former president Mehdi Karoubi has also announced he will stand.

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AFP -  Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is planning to run for a second four-year term in office in an election just five months away, a close aide said on Wednesday.

"He is naturally going to be a candidate, since all his programmes and polices will not be carried out in a four-year tenure," his media advisor Ali Akbar Javanfekr told AFP in the first confirmation of Ahmadinejad's intentions.

"He will run for election again to see his programmes bear fruit."

Ahmadinejad, 52, the former mayor of Tehran, surprised political pundits when he beat Iran's heavyweight former president and leading cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in a run-off election in 2005.

The next presidential election is due to be held on June 12 and some reformist and conservative candidates have already thrown their hats into the ring.

"We will show what the government has done, and we will show the nation's progress and the spread of justice," Javanfekr said.

Ahmadinejad ran for office in 2005 pledging to distribute OPEC member Iran's oil wealth to the people but has come under fire for his expansionist economic policies which have seen inflation soar.

Iran has also become increasingly isolated from the West over its defiant stance on its disputed nuclear drive, which several nations led by the United States suspect is a cover for an atomic weapons programme.

Ahmadinejad on Wednesday demanded that President Barack Obama apologise for past "crimes" against the Islamic republic by its US archfoe after the new US leader extended a hand of diplomacy to Tehran.

The outspoken Iranian president, who has drawn global outrage for calling for Israel to be wiped off the map and describing the Holocaust as a myth, can count on the support of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"Do not think that this year is your last year as head of the government. No. Act as if you will stay in charge for five years," Khamenei said in August 2008.

Frederic Tellier, Iran analyst with the International Crisis Group, said that Washington's strategy towards Tehran should not be based on the outcome of the June presidential election.

"Such a strategy would lead the regime to denounce the US for interfering in the elections," he said, adding that "not Mahmoud Ahmadinejad but Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is in charge of strategic issues."

Iran's armed forces chief General Hassan Firouz Abadi on Tuesday expressed support for a second four-year term for Ahmadinejad, although the founder of the Islamic republic, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, strongly advised military commanders to stay out of politics.

Ahmadinejad's successor as Tehran mayor, Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, is another leading conservative candidate in the presidential race.

Among reformers, former president Mohammad Khatami is considered a potential candidate. Former parliament speaker Mehdi Karoubi, who heads the reformist Etemad-e Melli (National Confidence) party, has announced he will stand.

Iranian media have also reported that former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi is also mulling entering the presidential race.

The state of the economy could be a key factor in the campaign.

An estimated 80 percent of the economy is controlled by the state and the country is reeling under massive inflation which peaked at 29 percent in September.

Analysts say the government has already injected so much oil money into the economy that inflation will remain high for months and years to come despite the central bank's efforts to shrink the excessive volume of loans.

Economists too have criticised the hardline president for his extravagant withdrawals from the Oil Stabilisation Fund for construction projects amid concerns over falling oil prices that could lead to a budget deficit.

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