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Hardline candidate withdraws from Iran election to boost conservative chances

A hardline Iranian presidential candidate withdrew Monday from the race to boost the chances of fellow conservatives, the media reported.

Gholam Ali Haddad Adel said on comments broadcast on state TV that he was getting out of the race because he wanted to "avoid the defeat" of his political allies. But Adel runs last among the eight candidates in most polls and his withdrawal is not expected to change the election equation.

Centrist candidate Hasan Rowhani's chances are perceived to have grown in recent days following reports that the pro-reform Mohammad Reza Aref may withdraw in his favor, or that former presidents Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and Mohammad Khatami may publically throw their support behind him.

The reports have alarmed hardliners. The June 14 election is to pick a successor to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who can't run due to term limits under Iran's constitution.

Iran's electoral watchdog meanwhile denied reports that it was considering disqualifying Rowhani.

Guardian Council spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei said Monday that there was no plan to review the qualifications of any of the eight candidates previously approved by the body, the state news agency IRNA reported.

He said however that the Council, a group controlled by the ruling clerics, has the legal right to review candidates until the voting day.

Two Iranian news outlets reported late Sunday that the watchdog body could disqualify Rowhani.

The semi-official Mehr news agency blamed alleged disclosure by Rowhani of confidential information about the country's nuclear program, as well as "radical" chanting by his supporters at his campaign gatherings.

Rowhani has criticized Iran's nuclear policy, saying it has damaged the country's economy.

His supporters have chanted in support of the release of opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi, who has been under house arrest for more than two years.