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Backers of Iran Exile Group Continue Protests in Europe

June 20, 2003|From Times Wire Services

PARIS — French police on Thursday arrested nearly 100 people protesting for a second day the raids on an Iranian opposition organization, while group sympathizers in Italy and Switzerland set themselves on fire.

Police briefly detained the followers of the Moujahedeen Khalq who were protesting beneath the Eiffel Tower and elsewhere in Paris. A day earlier, three protesters set their clothes on fire, and one died.

Police said they detained the protesters Thursday to prevent more self-immolations. Police had banned any further protests by the group, which is opposed to Islamic rule in Tehran.

Despite the ban, members of the Moujahedeen Khalq said at a news conference Thursday that they planned to continue "peaceful protests" in the days ahead.

The protesters are angry over the Tuesday arrest of their leader, Maryam Rajavi. She heads the Moujahedeen Khalq's political arm, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

Despite a plea from Rajavi that the self-immolations stop, two Iranian men set themselves on fire outside the French Embassy in Rome on Thursday and a third did so in the Swiss capital, Bern. The three were severely injured.

A council official said he had heard from sources in Iran that France was in negotiations with Tehran to extradite Rajavi. Iranian President Mohammad Khatami indicated Wednesday that he sought such a move.

France has denied that it plans to expel Rajavi and has explained its crackdown by saying it suspects that the group has been reinforcing its base in the Paris suburbs in preparation for attacks on Iranian embassies in Europe. The council has denied any such plans.

Since its 1979 ouster from Iran, the Moujahedeen Khalq had allied itself with Iraq's Saddam Hussein. The State Department lists the group as a terrorist organization.

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