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SUNDAY, 20 APR 2014
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Ahmadinejad challenges Rouhani to debate
Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, Iraq, on July 19, 2013. REUTERS/Karim Kadim/Pool
Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visits Imam Ali shrine in Najaf, Iraq, on July 19, 2013. REUTERS/Karim Kadim/Pool
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DUBAI: Former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday invited his successor Hassan Rouhani to debate "baseless and unfair" accusations that he is largely responsible for Iran's economic ills.

During a televised speech to mark his first 100 days in office last week, Rouhani said Ahmadinejad's profligacy and mismanagement were as much to blame for inflation and currency devaluation as international sanctions.

He said his government had inherited some $67 billion dollars of debt from Ahmadinejad, even though Iran raked in $600 billion in oil revenue during his eight-year tenure.

Writing to Rouhani, Ahmadinejad, who left office in August, said he had decided to respond to what he called factually incorrect comments that could lead to "misguided" decision-making.

"I found it necessary to invite your excellency to... clear up ambiguities and subject the facts to scrutiny in a friendly atmosphere and frank debate," Ahmadinejad wrote in the letter, a copy of which was published by Mehr news agency.

An adviser to Rouhani said the president welcomed the invitation to a debate on condition that Ahmadinejad "respects the truth", according to Fars news agency.

After his shock election victory in 2005, Ahmadinejad rose from relative obscurity to become Iran's most visible figure and was popular among many religious hardliners and poor people.

But before his presidency ended he had lost favour with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Last week he failed to make a scheduled court appearance to face charges related to his economic performance while in office.

In recent years, many political factions accused him of reckless spending and poor fiscal management that compounded the impact of sanctions over Iran's disputed nuclear programme.

Ahmadinejad's slide into ignominy contrasts with the growing popularity of Rouhani, who won a landslide election victory in June promising a policy of "constructive engagement" with the outside world would help ease the embargoes.

"As a brother, I advise Mr Ahmadinejad to seek penitence from God and the nation because he brought a multitude of problems on the country in the fields of economy, politics and people's trust in the state," said Akbar Turkan, a Rouhani adviser.

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