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Bitter remarks close Iran runoff campaign

Abuse of power, vigilantism alleged in presidential race

TEHRAN -- Campaigning for the runoff that will decide Iran's next president ended last night in a flurry of bitter exchanges between campaigns that disagree profoundly on the direction of the theocracy.

Backers of Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, the two-term former president, held a half-dozen rallies in Tehran. At one raucous event, they warned that Rafsanjani's opponent in tomorrow's election, Tehran Mayor Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, would reverse social freedoms and embolden Iran's hard-line Revolutionary Guard and militias.

Former Tehran mayor Gholam Hossein Karbaschi alleged that vigilantes in the holy city of Qom had roughed up an ayatollah who supported Rafsanjani.

''If they acted like that with clergy in Qom, what will they do to ordinary people?" Karbaschi said.

Across the street, Ahmadinejad supporters sat in respectful silence as they listened to speakers in a theater segregated by sex -- men on the ground floor, women in the balcony dressed in black chadors, a tent-like covering.

''They've got nothing to do with Islam," lawmaker Ali Khoshchehre said of Rafsanjani's supporters, who include the reformist establishment led by outgoing President Mohammad Khatami. ''They are using power and wealth to ruin the reputation of their rival. Everybody knows it's not Islamic. It's not competition, it's a kind of jealousy. They're jealous of our candidate and his popularity.

''You should look carefully around you, and know your enemy," Khoshchehre advised.

Ahmadinejad, 49, urges a return to the selfless, religious commitment of the 1979 revolution that overthrew the US-backed shah and established Iran as a republic governed by clerics, who hold the self-appointed positions that rank above the presidency.

His campaign rebroadcast yesterday on television a deft, half-hour film that showed the mayor in meetings and crowds, where he appeared to be a cheerful public servant with a common touch and a modest middle-class home.

But in an unsubtle dig at the ruling political class that includes Rafsanjani, who is a millionaire, the film opened with a tour of the home of Tehran's last mayor, lingering around the swimming pool, sauna, and marble staircases.

''What we need is justice," Ahmadinejad said in the video. ''We ask the officials now, 'Why are you residing in palaces? Why do you work in palaces?'

''They say because we are trying to keep the prestige of our country. Where did you get this? What you are saying cannot be found in Islamic sources."

Rafsanjani, 70, billed as a ''pragmatic conservative," has cast himself in the campaign as a seasoned businessman, wily negotiator, and the only figure with the stature to confront hard-line clerics holding Iran back from the changes necessary to prosper economically and renew ties with the United States.

''We should not be frozen in the past," read a Rafsanjani banner strung across a main street in the capital yesterday.

At least one opinion poll showed Rafsanjani with a narrow lead over Ahmadinejad, who surprised many analysts by qualifying for the runoff after coming in second last week.

One candidate in the first round, Mahdi Karrubi, has charged that Ahmadinejad's strong finish was engineered by some Revolutionary Guard commanders and militiamen.

At a news conference Tuesday, Karrubi joined other reformists in urging a large turnout tomorrow.

Rafsanjani campaign officials said their candidate would need a high turnout to overcome the hard-line loyalists who are all but certain to show up at the polls for Ahmadinejad.

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