(AFP) – Iran’s media on Saturday hailed the latest televised debate of presidential candidates, highlighting sharp exchanges among them on topics such as the nuclear issue and political freedom.
“The differences among the candidates are clear. The final sprint has begun,” said leading economic daily Donya-e Eqtesad about the debate on Friday evening.
Reformist daily Arman hailed the discussions, saying they “showcased differences.”
The eight men vying for the presidency clashed in the heated exchange over nuclear talks with world powers, with pointed criticism aimed at top nuclear negotiator and hardline candidate Saeed Jalili, a frontrunner in the June 14 election.
“I would have liked to have written that the winner of last night’s debate was (moderate) Hassan Rowhani or (reformist) Mohammed Reza Aref, but I have to say (conservative) Ali Akbar Velayati was the real winner,” wrote political analyst Sadegh Zibakalam in reformist daily, Etemad.
“On the one hand, he defended the foreign policy of (ex-president Akbar) Hashemi Rafsanjani and, on the other, he openly criticised the attitude of Jalili in nuclear negotiations.”
“Nobody can accuse Velayati of being uninformed, or linked to the West… or as not part of the conservative camp”.
Velayati, an adviser to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, had lashed out at Jalili for his handling of nuclear negotiations with world powers.
“The art of diplomacy is that we save the nuclear right, while at the same time, we reduce the sanctions,” Velayati said.
Under the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran has been slapped with several rounds of sanctions targeting its ailing economy, leading to raging inflation and high unemployment.
The reformist daily Bahar said “reformers (Rowhani and Aref) showed their unity, while the conservatives showed their differences” during the debate.
Aref criticised what he said was political pressure on his supporters.
“Is it normal to prevent my supporters from showing portraits of Mohammad Khatami?” he asked during the debate referring to the reformist ex-president accused of backing opposition leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi in the 2009 presidential election.
Mousavi and Karroubi had denounced as fraudulent the result of that election, and tens of thousands of their supporters took to the streets opposing Ahmadinejad’s return to office for a second term.
The two have been under house arrest for more than two years.
Most of the candidates have reportedly asked for a fourth and final debate before the election, in what is seen as a sign of success of Friday’s televised exchanges.