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Iran's Presidential Election Campaign Heats Up

The four contenders in Iran's presidential election campaign have been criss-crossing the country in an effort to gain support ahead of the June 12 vote. Incumbent Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has the backing of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, appears to be the favorite going into the final stretch.

A large crowd of students cheered Iran's top reformist candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi at Tabriz University, during a stump speech, just over two weeks before Iranians are due to go to the polls to elect a new president.

Mousavi is running neck and neck with incumbent president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and despite the support of former reformist President Mohammed Khatami, many analysts say he is fighting an uphill battle, because Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is tacitly supporting Mr. Ahmadinejad.

An Iranian prime minister during the 1980s, Mousavi is still remembered by many Iranians for guiding the country through the turmoil of the Iran-Iraq War and for his even-handed economic policies during tough times.

Mousavi told students in Tabriz, Tuesday, that he supports free-speech, since that was a key goal of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution:

"The revolution," he says, "was aimed at guaranteeing us freedom of speech. It is not in our best interest to not tolerate opposition, because this would make it impossible for us to be part of the modern world."

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, gained the support, Tuesday, of the largest bloc in Iran's parliament. Two hundred members of Iran's "Principlist Front" coalition of conservatives signed a letter, pledging to vote for Mr. Ahmadinejad on June 12th.

Mr. Ahmadinejad also used a 30 minute national campaign ad to defend his handling of the economy, insisting that "Iran's economy is stable, despite the global economic crisis." He also claimed to have defied outside enemies by his wise handling of foreign policy.

During a campaign gathering in Tehran, the hardline head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi, threw his support to Mr. Ahmadinejad, as well.

A third candidate for president, hardliner Mohsen Rezaei, who headed Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards for 16 years, campaigned in northern Iran, saying he would form a coalition government which includes "efficient people that abide by the law."

Rezaei went on to threaten Israel, claiming that he was capable of neutralizing the Jewish state with "one strike," a possible allusion to an attack on Israel's Dimona nuclear complex.

Trailing the other three contenders, candidate Mehdi Kharroubi, one-time speaker of Iran's parliament, complained that his campaign ad, calling for the change of Iran's constitution, had been censured.

Karroubi has gained some notoriety among the four candidates for proposing a novel economic plan which would grant shares in Iran's oil wealth to all Iranian citizens.