TEHRAN, Iran – Iran's hard-line president took a final shot at his rivals Wednesday during his last public pre-election rally, accusing them of resorting to a smear campaign against him similar to the one used by Adolf Hitler's propaganda minister.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is locked in a neck-and-neck race against reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi. Both have launched intense political attacks against each other and have turned the presidential election into a display of Iran's deep political divides.
Heightening the tension before the race, a top official of Iran's hard-line elite Revolutionary Guards accused Ahmadinejad's reformist opponents of seeking to launch a "velvet revolution" — alluding to the 1989 ouster of the Communist government of then-Czechoslovakia — and vowing to crush any such attempts.
Yadollah Javani said, in remarks published Wednesday on a Guards' Web site, that reformists plan to claim vote rigging should their candidate lose in Friday's vote and provoke street violence. He said the group is ready to deal with any possible post-election violence and crush opponents. Ahmadinejad is believed to have the support of some elements of the Revolutionary Guards.
The Iranian president and his main pro-reform opponent, Mir Hossein Mousavi, have accused each other using Hitler-like propaganda tactics in order to win on Friday. But the president's harsh allegations against his rivals, including Mousavi, during Wednesday's rally indicated that the mudslinging between the candidates was not slowing down.
"They applied the methods of (Josef) Goebbels, propaganda minister of Hitler," Ahmadinejad told thousands of Iranian-flag waving supporters. "They used this method of psychological war against our nation."
Ten of thousands of supporters jammed a Tehran street with cries of "Mousavi is a liar" and "Mousavi bye-bye" — a take on the "Ahamdi bye-bye" that's become a staple of opposition rallies. Women in long black robes, known as chadors, wore Iranian flags tied around their necks or underneath their head covering.
The outcome will have little direct impact on Iran's key policies — such as its nuclear program or possible acceptance of Washington's offer for dialogue — which are directly dictated by the ruling Islamic clerics. But Ahmadinejad has become a highly polarizing figure on the international stage with comments that include questioning the Holocaust and calling for Israel's demise.
A change of government could ease Iran's isolation and give Washington and others a freer hand to build ties with Tehran and engage in negotiations over Iran's nuclear ambitions. The United States and others fear Iran could eventually seek nuclear weapons, but Iranian officials say the country only seeks peaceful reactors for electricity.
In western Tehran, supporters of the president flocked to Azadi St. — or Freedom St. — to catch a glimpse of him and hear one of his final speeches before heading to the polls on Friday. No public campaigning is allowed the day before the vote.
Hundreds of women draped Iranian flags around their necks and several young men painted their faces in the red, white and green colors of the flag — Ahmadinejad's campaign symbol. About a dozen men stood on a nearby rooftop as Ahmadinejad spoke, frantically waving large Iranian flags in the air.
Mousavi has made Iran's struggling economy a hallmark of his campaign, accusing Ahmadinejad of manipulating statistics that hide the extent of the nation's fiscal problems despite its vast oil and gas reserves.
Earlier this week, Ahmadinejad insisted that inflation stood at 15 percent — lower than the 25 percent widely reported by financial officials. On Tuesday, Ahmadinejad admitted that inflation was 25 percent.
But he also accused Mousavi of lying about the state of the economy.
"With the grace of God, the Iranian nation will send them to the bottom of history," he said.
Two other candidates are in the race: former Revolutionary Guard commander Mohsen Rezaei and former parliament speaker Mahdi Karroubi. In the increasingly tight race, their level of support could play a swing role — with Rezaei expected to draw conservative voters and Karroubi pulling in moderates.
Many of Ahmadinejad's supporters said they would vote for him because he fights for the common man and champions Islam — images promoted in his campaign propaganda. Several of the posters handed out at the rally showed him praying, having dinner with a rural family and comforting an elderly man.
"He's very brave and a real Muslim. He says what is right and he doesn't get frightened by anyone," said supporter Mariam Nouri, 38, who had a red, white and green ribbon tied on her wrist.
Mousavi's backers have also been flocking to the streets in recent days to show their support, and a few wearing green wristbands — Mousavi's campaign color — gathered around the fringes of Ahmadinejad's rally.
Thousands of Mousavi supporters, many of them young people, packed into nearby Freedom Square later Wednesday for a rally. Security was tight at the demonstration with riot police surrounding the square and a police helicopter flying overhead.
Mousavi did not attend that rally, but made a final campaign foray into Ahmadinejad's provincial strongholds. Thousands greeted him at a university in Loristan, southwest of Tehran, and crowds gathered to hug him at another town in that province.