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Iranian Presidential Candidates Tackle Economy in First Debate

Iran's eight presidential hopefuls took turns answering questions about the country's struggling economy in their first debate Friday.

It was the first time since Iran's Guardian Council approved the final list of candidates that all of them appeared on the same stage.

Few of the candidates referred directly to the international sanctions that analysts say have hurt Iran's economic fortunes.

Ali Akbar Velayati, a top advisor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for "reconciliation with the world'' to help reduce inflation and put a growing number of unemployed Iranians back to work.

Hassan Rowhani, a senior cleric and former nuclear negotiator said job creation had to be a top priority, lamenting there are more than three million jobless Iranians, including 800,000 university graduates.



On Wednesday, Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warned all the candidates to be truthful and respectful during the debates.

Four years ago, televised debates between Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and pro-reform opponents Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi produced several heated exchanges.

Some analysts say Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, is the likely favorite. Jalili has also worked in Khamenei's office.

Recent government data show the unemployment rate is up to 13.1 percent. Inflation is at 12.1 percent, with some economists predicting it could rise to about 30 percent.

Iran has endured several rounds of sanctions imposed by the international community over Tehran's failure to comply with curbs on its nuclear program. Analysts say the sanctions have greatly reduced Iran's crude oil exports, costing the country billions of dollars in revenue.

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