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Apr 28, 2:28 PM EDT

Iran: Tehran's mayor attacks Rouhani in pre-election debate

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TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Tehran's mayor and presidential candidate Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf accused on Friday President Hassan Rouhani's administration of dishonesty, mismanagement and supporting the rich at the expense of the poor in the first debate between the six presidential candidates.

During the first of three planned debates ahead of the May 19 elections, Qalibaf criticized the Rouhani administration, saying social and environmental problems remained unsolved because of "Your weak management. Your old and traditional management."

Qalibaf's other criticisms of Rouhani's administration included that it does not believe in privatization and had failed to fulfil a promise to create four million jobs - a promise Rouhani, interrupting, denied making.

Rouhani's senior vice-president and presidential candidate responded by saying that Qalibaf and other hard-liners did not voice concern for the "squandering of some $700 bln" during President Ahmadinejad's administration.

Rouhani also accused Qalibaf of issuing false statements.

He went to added that Iran needed a $200 bln investment in its oil industry, and that there was a need for more investment to create more jobs.

Qalibaf, 55, a conservative veteran member of the elite Revolutionary Guard, is running for president for the third time after unsuccessful bids in 2005 and 2013.

His candidacy could, however, be marred by his support for hardliners who stormed the Saudi embassy in 2016, leading to a severing of diplomatic ties between Tehran and Riyadh. A January fire that engulfed Tehran's Plasco building, killing dozens, is also a significant blemish on his term as mayor.

Other candidates Ebrahim Raisi, Mostafa Mirsalim and Mostafa Mirsalim did not raise any controversial issues, relaying simple messages that they will support the poor.

Both Qalibaf and Raisi promised to increase threefold the current monthly $13 "cash-for-poor" scheme.

Responses to the debate from the city's residents varied. Zaha Mohammadi, a 39-year-old homemaker, said Qalibaf won the debate "because he spoke about the people's problems."

Akbar Souri, a 26-year-old taxi driver, said he wasn't planning to vote, but "Qalibaf's wrong comments made me crazy and want to vote for Rouhani or Jahangiri."

Fatemeh Rahimi, a 44-year-old teacher, said it was "shameful of Qalibaf to offer money for votes."

"Is it an auction?" she added.

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