ROUNDUP: Khatami quits presidential race, supports Moussavi

Khatami quits presidential race, supports MoussaviTehran - Iranian former president Mohammad Khatami quit the presidential race on Monday night to support former prime minister Mir-Hossein Moussavi in the June 12 election.

The two candidates had similar platforms, and observers believed they could split the moderate vote to the advantage of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, whose ultra-conservative faction has named him as its sole candidate.

In a statement carried by his website, Yaari News, Khatami said he withdrew his candidacy "as a moral obligation for avoiding a split in the votes."

Khatami, who made the decision after a meeting with the reformist clergy body MRM on Monday night in Tehran, reiterated in the statement his support for Moussavi.

The ILNA news agency, which is close to Moussavi, had earlier reported that Khatami did not want to compete against his close aide although the reformist factions wanted the moderate cleric to stay.

"I meant what I said (last month) that there will be either me or Moussavi in the presidential race," said Khatami, who was culture minister under Moussavi in the 1980s.

"The aim of running in an election is winning and I sincerely believe that Moussavi has the potential to make the change and gain the people's votes," Khatami added.

Both Khatami and Moussavi are fierce opponents of Ahmadinejad. Khatami had focused his campaign on political reforms, but Moussavi has concentrated mainly on economic issues, which are seen as the president's Achilles' heel.

Observers, however, say that Moussavi lacks the charisma of Khatami and could not mobilize the masses like the moderate cleric did back in 1997 and 2005.

But in return, Moussavi has the better know-how for managing Iran's current economic crisis which is the main concern of voters in the presidential election, far more than discussions over resuming talks with the US over the nuclear dispute or the Middle East.

Former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi will also run for president even though he too is a close aide of Khatami and Moussavi and shares the same political standpoints.

Observers agree that any diversion among the moderate and reformist factions prior to the June 12 poll will please Ahmadinejad and his ultra-conservative backers and drastically increase his chances for being re-elected. (dpa)

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