Iran’s reformist former president Mohammad Khatami yesterday formally announced his plan to withdraw from the June presidential election.
In a statement released on a Web site of his supporters, the charismatic cleric said he was withdrawing from the election in a bid to avoid any division of votes among reformist candidates.
“I announce my withdrawal from the 10th presidential election,” Khatami said in the statement that was released after he held a late-evening meeting with his supporters and campaign officials.
He also called for a “free and fair election.”
Khatami, 65, was Iranian president from 1997 to 2005 and had last month declared plans to compete in the June 12 vote.
Former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and former parliament speaker Mehdi Karroubi are the other two candidates in the race, while incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has yet to formally announce his candidacy.
Ahmadinejad is reportedly backed by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Without openly supporting anyone in particular, Khatami said Mousavi and Karroubi had the “merits” to become the next president of the Islamic republic.
Iranian media has reported that Khatami was largely seen favoring Mousavi. Yesterday, Khatami said Mousavi wanted to “change the current circumstances” in the country.
In his previous presidential term, Khatami inspired the Iranian youth with promises of social and political reforms while Iran’s relations with the West were less confrontational than they are now under Ahmadinejad.
Meanwhile, the US military confirmed on Monday that US jets shot down an Iranian unmanned surveillance aircraft last month over Iraqi territory about 100km northeast of Baghdad.
A US statement said the Ababil 3 was tracked for about 70 minutes before US jets shot it down “well-inside Iraqi airspace” and that the aircraft’s presence over Iraq “was not an accident.”
An Iraqi official said the Iranian aircraft went down near the Iraqi border town of Mandali. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media.
The Ababil is believed to have a maximum range of about 150km and can fly up to 4,270m. It is primarily designed for surveillance and intelligence-gathering.
US officials have frequently accused the Iranians of supplying weapons, training and money to Shiite extremist groups opposed to the US military presence and to the US-backed Iraqi government.
Iran denies the claims.
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