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article imageIran's Rouhani vows to end remaining sanctions in final debate

By Eric Randolph (AFP)     May 12, 2017 in World

Iran's President Hassan Rouhani vowed Friday to continue rebuilding ties with the world and get rid of remaining sanctions during a fiery final debate a week ahead of the election.

Rouhani, who is seeking a second four-year term next Friday, said Tehran's nuclear deal with world powers had ended many sanctions and brought a windfall from renewed oil sales over the past year that could now be invested.

"We want to allocate $15 billion for investments... and $3-5 billion for supporting the poor and needy," said Rouhani.

But he went further in his closing statement, vowing for the first time to target the remaining US sanctions that are still hampering trade deals and preventing foreign money from entering Iran.

"I will engage myself in lifting all the non-nuclear sanctions during the coming four years and bring back the grandeur of Iran and the Iranian people," he said.

Removing more sanctions will be a tall order given the current stance of US President Donald Trump, who has harshly criticised the nuclear deal and vowed to take a tougher line on Iran.

Rouhani faced bruising attacks throughout the debate from his conservative opponents, who say his policies have done little to help the poor.

"The country is facing an economic crisis, with unemployment, recession and inflation," said hardline Tehran mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, who repeatedly returned to his theme that Rouhani's administration had benefited only the "four percenters" at the top of society.

"A tree that has not born any fruit in four years will not yield anything positive in the future," said Ghalibaf.

- Corruption allegations -

Much of the final debate consisted of tit-for-tat corruption allegations.

The conservatives accused Rouhani, his family and his associates of financial and property-related graft.

The president hit back with his own allegations against the Tehran mayor from a time when he was head of security.

"In 2005, I had a dossier on you in my hands and I blocked its publication. If I had let it be published at the time, you would not be sat here today," said Rouhani.

A politically moderate cleric who is seen as the best option for liberalising reformists, Rouhani has been on the offensive all week, framing the vote as a choice between greater social freedoms and repression.

But the final debate was themed around the economy, where continued stagnation and high unemployment have given plenty of ammunition to his conservative opponents.

Cleric and jurist Ebrahim Raisi is seen as the leading conservative, though still a distant second to Rouhani in unofficial polls.

He kept up his efforts to reach out to poor and religiously conservative voters.

"The people expect government members to fear God," said Raisi, who runs the Imam Reza shrine in the holy city of Mashhad.

"Poverty has increased with this government from 23 percent to 33 percent. We must increase direct aid to the poor," he added, accusing Rouhani's government of only boosting subsidies at the last minute to grab votes.

"Why did you wait for the election campaign to increase aid? Why didn't you do it four years ago? The people are intelligent and they will decide."

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