( Reuters ) - Iran's top cleric told rival factions on Wednesday not to "destroy" each other in campaigning for March elections, expected to pit backers of hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad against more moderate politicians.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei urged Iranians to take part in the vote for the conservative-dominated legislature on March 14, and said it could be the most important issue facing the Islamic Republic this year.
But he told a rally in the central town of Yazd: "I strongly request all those who like different candidates not to show their support by destroying, insulting and accusing others."
"Exposing the faithful (to the danger) of ruining their reputation ... in the press, (and on) Internet Web sites is not advisable," Khamenei told the crowd in a speech broadcast live on state television.
Khamenei, Iran's highest authority, did not elaborate but appeared to be referring to a recent war of words between hardliners and reformists.
Ahmadinejad, who came to power in 2005 pledging to share out Iran's oil wealth more fairly, has faced increasing criticism for his government's failure to bring down double-digit inflation in OPEC's number two producer.
Former President Mohammad Khatami and former chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, along with reformist political parties, have also accused him of mismanaging a nuclear row with the West.
Ahmadinejad has hit back by branding critics of his hardline stand in the nuclear dispute as "traitors" and blaming rising consumer prices on factors beyond the government's control, such as the weakening U.S. dollar.
Inflation rose to 19.1 percent in the year to November 22, according to central bank figures, but many ordinary Iranians complain that official data understates the price rises they see in shops.