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( dpa )- The Imam Reza mosque in the Iranian city of Islamshahr, south of the capital Tehran, was packed with people waiting to hear the election speech by former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami.

"He is my hero, he will bring back democracy to our country," said Azita, a 22-year-old student from Islamshahr while carrying a flag of the reformist coalition led by Khatami.

Khatami is heading the reformist coalition in the March 14 parliamentary elections against the factions of ultraconservative President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

"The main basis of freedom is the right of people to determine their political future for themselves," Khatami said.

The cleric was referring to renewed disqualifications of more than half of the top reformist candidates by the senate-like Guardian Council on grounds of lack of loyalty to Iran's Islamic system.

"Problems cannot be solved through lies, threats and political ballyhoo but respecting civil rights," said Khatami, referring to Ahmadinejad and his supporters.

The speech by Khatami was interrupted several times by enthusiastic applause and calls of "Khatami we love you."

But unlike the hundreds listening to the speech, the other residents in Islamshahr remained rather cool towards both the former president and elections.

"First we have to do my (Persian) New Year shopping, and then let's see about the elections," said Marjaneh, a housewife living in Islamshahr.

The parliamentary elections this year are being held just one week before the Noruz (New Day), the beginning of the new year according to the Persian calendar.

"We still have to do so many things before Noruz. Holding elections before Noruz is really very stupid," said Marjaneh's daughter, Azita.

But the political developments and especially the economic crisis has even affected the Noruz market in Iran.

"Business was already lousy last year but this year, it is even much lousier. People just have no money any more, not even for Noruz," said Ali, a shopowner in Islamshahr.

Despite record oil prices in the global markets, inflation in oil rich Iran ranges between 20 to 30 per cent. Rental fees and real estate prices have even reached 70 per cent. Statistics such as these are people's main concern.

"When the oil price was ten dollars per barrel, inflation was far less than now when oil is reaching the 100 dollar price range. What kind of social justice and economic management is this?" asked reformist candidate Ishaq Jahangiri.

Economic reforms based on social justice has been one of the main slogans of Ahmadinejad but none of his economic promises, particularly for the poor and middle class, have been realized.

The main race in the elections is between the pro-Ahmadinejad conservative faction, pro-Khatami reformists and a third conservative group which is loyal to the system but critical of the president.

Observers believe that following the disqualification of the reformists' top candidates, the new conservative faction would have good chances and be more trusted by the majority of the people to solve the economic crisis.

"The situation has become even worse. During (the presidential era of) Khatami, the situation was not good, either, but not as bad as now," said Karim, another shopowner in Islamshahr.

Asked whether he would vote for Khatami's reformist faction in Friday's elections, Karim said: "Friday, is it already this Friday? No way, this is the peak of my Noruz business."

"I have to earn money as none of these deputies, regardless of what faction, would help me if I don't," he added.

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