DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has criticized as "unworthy" the hostile exchanges between rival candidates in Friday's presidential election, but said a high turnout would mitigate the impact of any lasting animosity.
Rivals have been trading accusations of corruption and brutality in debates and speeches aired on live television and the campaign has been the most bad-tempered in the near 40-year history of the Islamic Republic.
"In the election debates, some remarks were made that were unworthy of the Iranian nation. But the (wide) participation of the people will erase all of that," Khamenei told an audience on Wednesday, according to his own website.
Seeking a second term, pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani, 68, remains the narrow favorite. Hardline rivals have hammered him over his failure to boost an economy weakened by decades of sanctions, even after most were lifted after Tehran, on Rouhani's watch, struck a nuclear deal with major powers.
Rouhani's strongest challenger is hardline cleric Ebrahim Raisi, 56, who says Iran does not need foreign help and promises a revival of the values of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
In 2009, a disputed election led to major unrest in Iran, where political protests are extremely rare. The demonstrations were put to an end by a security crackdown.
In an apparent reference to the 2009 demonstrations, Khamenei, a hardliner who has the ultimate say in the Islamic Republic, has previously warned he would confront anyone trying to interfere in the election.
"Look at the regional countries. Where is it not unsafe?" Khamenei said, a thinly-veiled allusion to neighboring Arab states, some of whom are still in turmoil from Arab Spring pro-democracy protests in 2011.
"In the midst of this unsafe group (of countries), the Islamic Republic is preparing its elections amid safety and calm... This is very valuable."
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, William Maclean; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)