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February 1998, Week 3

FarsiNet FarsiNews

Iran papers give front pages to U.S. wrestlers Feb 22
U.S. Wrestlers Win Hearts in Iran Feb 21
Iran to Issue $750 Million in State Certificates Feb 20
EU to Lift Ban on High-Level Contacts with Iran Feb 20
Iran Deeply Concerned Over Strike on Iraq Feb 19
Freedom Movement of Iran Announced Illegal Feb 19
Iran Says Opposed to any Strike against Iraq Feb 18
American Wrestlers Are Stars at Tehran Bazaar Feb 18
Saudi King Receives Iranian PRESIDENT'S Message Feb 18
Iran parliament speaker hopes Rushdie will be killed Feb 16
Iran Groups May Up Rushdie Bounty Feb 15
Iran Cleric Says Rushdi Must Die Feb 14


Iran papers give front pages to U.S. wrestlers
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Pictures of American wrestlers ran on the front pages of nearly half of Tehran's major newspapers on Saturday, a day after an extraordinary sporting event in the Iranian capital.

A sample of 16 leading newspapers gave extensive coverage to Friday night's Takhti Cup amateur freestyle wrestling tournament which saw the first American sports team compete on Iranian soil since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Most newspapers factually reported matches that involved American wrestlers Kevin Jackson, Zeke Jones, Melvin Douglas, Shawn Charles and John Giura without commenting on any political significance of the visit.

The trip had raised comparisons with Washington's "ping-pong diplomacy" of the 1970s when a team of American table tennis players went to China as a prelude to improved ties between the two states.

But the message from hardline papers, that regularly take the position of conservative clerics opposed to ties with Washington, showed how difficult a quick thaw in relations between the two arch-foes could come about.

"It is sad that actions are taken to fly the American flag under the cover of sports competition in Iran after 20 years at a time when the people of many countries burn the American flag to protest against the possibility of Washington's military strike against Iraq," Jomhuri Eslami said.

The Stars and Stripes was carried by the American team at the official opening ceremony of the tournament on Wednesday and the U.S. flag was hung from the ceiling of the sports hall throughout the four days of competition.

U.S. flags are regularly burned at a public demonstrations in Tehran, a bustling city of about seven million people.

Jomhuri Eslami's lead story was devoted to an anti-American march by Tehran's Ansar-e Hezbollah (Supporters of the Party of God) on Friday which denounced the U.S. military buildup in the region.

Its wrestling coverage centred on Iranian Abbas Jadidi's victory over Douglas in the 97 kg (213.75 lb) class. Its only picture showed Jadidi raising his arms in thanks to God over the prostrate body of Arizona-based Douglas.

Kayhan newspaper carried pictures of Jones waving an Iranian flag to the crowd and Douglas carrying a portrait of Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei at the medals award ceremony on Friday.

But the same paper played down any political dimension to the trip, emphasising that it was a sporting event.

"Our people did not view these sports envoys as the envoys of the leaders of the White House and received them only from a sporting angle," Kayhan reported.

"Yesterday the American wrestlers, contrary to the black propaganda of their government about the violent behaviour of the Iranian people towards American citizens, witnessed the dignity and hospitality of Iranians," it added.

Jameah newspaper carried a colour picture of Douglas and Jadidi raising each other's arms in a sporting gesture and a shot of Jackson in an embrace with an Iranian opponent.

Persian-language Akhbar devoted three pages to reports and pictures from the event while Qods and Iran-e Varzeshi (Iran Sports) also gave extensive coverage.

U.S. Wrestlers Win Hearts in Iran
By Anwar Faruqi
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Thousands of fans applauded wildly Friday when an American wrestler honored the Iranian flag at a tournament that has raised prospects of improved relations between the two estranged countries.

Zeke Jones waved a tiny paper Iranian flag after being awarded the silver medal in the 119-pound class at the Takhti Cup tournament -- the first event attended by an American sports team since the ouster of the U.S. backed-shah in 1979.

Hours later, Jones and his four colleagues left Tehran, concluding a tournament in which they won few medals but swept the hearts of the crowd.

That was reflected again late Friday when, shortly after Jones' demonstration, U.S. wrestler Melvin Douglas went to take his silver medal carrying a portrait of Iran's hard-line spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

``Douglas! Douglas!'' the fans roared as the 1992 Olympic champion accepted the medal and raised the framed portrait of Khamenei -- Iran's most senior leader who insists there can be no warming of ties with the United States.

But for the 12,000 fans, feelings for the Americans couldn't be warmer.

They applauded U.S. wrestler Kevin Jackson and showered him with paper Iranian flags as he trotted around the arena with the gold medal he won against Iran's Fereidoon Qambari in the 187-pound category.

The U.S. team's visit came a month after Iranian president Mohammad Khatami called for opening the door to cultural and sports exchanges between the two countries. He later said there was no need for immediate restoration of diplomatic ties, after criticism from hard-liners.

But the prospect that ties might be restored between Iran and the United States has been raised by the presence of the American wrestlers. They are the most visible Americans in Tehran since militant students released U.S. Embassy hostages in 1981 after 444 days in captivity.

The fans were ecstatic Friday when Jones emerged from the dressing area twice to wave the Iranian flag. Security agents and the head of the U.S. delegation, Larry Sciacchetano, persuaded him not to make a third foray to preserve order.

``I was trying to show the friendship between American wrestlers and Iranian fans, to show that we come in friendship,'' said Jones, of Chandler, Ariz. ``It has been the greatest event of my life.''

`That was not a political statement,'' Sciacchetano said. ``It was a statement of friendship for Iranian fans.''

``I've been trying to downplay the political significance of this trip. But every time I see the American flag displayed here in the stadium for the first time in 19 years, I get goose bumps,'' said Sciacchetano, of Baton Rouge, La. ``I think the majority of the Iranian people are happy that we came.''

One of the spectators, Ali Mohammedi Bagheri, agreed. ``The message of sport is friendship, not hostility.''

In another sign of the changing mood in Iran -- at least among wrestling fans -- the crowd jeered one of the leading government hard-liners, Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri, the speaker of parliament.

When Nateq-Nouri, who lost the presidential election last May to Khatami, first entered the hall, the fans chanted ``Khatami! Khatami!,'' indicating their preference for his more moderate domestic and foreign policies.

When Jones waved the Iranian flag, Nateq-Nouri smiled but made no other gesture.

Iranians swept most of the medals at the four-day tournament. They won six gold medals, three silver and one bronze. The U.S. team won one gold medal and two silver.

Iran to Issue $750 Million in State Certificates
TEHRAN-(Reuters) - Iran soon will issue 2.25 trillion rials ($750 million) worth of state certificates to supplement its government budget, Iran's Central Bank Governor Moshsen Nourbakhsh said on Thursday.

Nourbakhsh, quoted by Iranian television, said the three-year ``national participation certificates'' with a 20 percent annual return would be sold at banks on Saturday.

He said the three-year state-guaranteed certificates were being issued under the guidelines of the state budget for the next Iranian year, which starts on March 21.

Iran, trying to develop its capital market within Islamic constraints, in 1994 approved the instruments, which are similar to bonds - a first since the 1979 revolution. A number of state bodies, including municipalities and provincial development agencies, have since issued the certificates to finance projects.

Under the scheme, investors become part-owners of the projects and receive a provisional annual return of 20 percent.

Any extra profit would be distributed upon maturity, in line with the dominant view among Iran's Shiite Moslem scholars which bans the fixing of returns as tantamount to usury.

Official figures put annual inflation at about 17 percent. The budget for the current Iranian year, which ends on March 20, allowed 2.3 trillion rials in certificates to be issued. But there were no figures available on how much income the government had gained from the instruments.

EU to Lift Ban on High-Level Contacts with Iran
LONDON, (Reuters) - The European Union will next week lift a ban on high-level contacts with Iran but member states have not yet agreed on what aims to set for a dialogue, a senior EU diplomat said on Thursday.

EU foreign ministers would decide at their monthly meeting next Monday to scrap the ban imposed after a German court ruled last April that Iranian leaders had ordered the 1992 killing of three Kurdish dissidents in a Berlin restaurant.

The diplomat said the EU would no longer use the term ``critical dialogue,'' hated by Iran and derided by the United States, to define relations with Tehran.

But the EU's British presidency wanted the decision to include a pledge to keep under review Iran's performance on issues of concern to the 15-nation Union, such as weapons of mass destruction and support for terrorism, he said.

The decision would be an acknowledgement of a new, more constructive Iranian attitude since the election of moderate Islamist President Mohammad Khatami last May.

But the diplomat said Britain wanted wording that would also signal to the United States that the EU was serious about stopping Tehran from acquiring weapons of mass destruction or backing Moslem extremists abroad.

France, Italy and Greece resisted such explicit wording at a meeting of EU political directors this week, he added.

The Clinton administration must decide soon whether to sanction French oil giant Total SA over a $2 billion gas deal with Iran.

EU countries recalled their envoys for consultations after the German court ruling but returned them in November after resolving a standoff over Tehran's demand that the German ambassador return last.

Without waiting for the ban to be lifted, French Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine met his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharrazi, in Geneva on January 29.

Iran Deeply Concerned Over Strike on Iraq
TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran has expressed ``deep concern'' to Saudi Arabia about possible U.S.-led military strikes against Iraq, the Iranian news agency IRNA said Thursday.

It said Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Mohammad Sadr, in a meeting in Riyadh with Saudi Arabia's King Fahd, ``expressed the deep concern of the Islamic Republic of Iran over the consequences of military action against Iraq.''

Sadr also delivered to King Fahd a message from Iranian President Mohammad Khatami during the meeting, the agency said.

Iran's former president Ali Akbar Rafsanjani, who now heads a powerful state body, is expected to meet King Fahd during a landmark visit to Saudi Arabia which is due to start on Saturday, Iranian officials have said.

In a separate dispatch, IRNA said U.S. warplanes had stepped up their flights over southern Iraq in the past two days.

It quoted ``local sources'' on the Iran-Iraq border as saying the planes could be seen flying over the Iraqi Faw peninsula on the Gulf.

``The sources said the roar of the planes was increasing the tension and concern among Iraqi residents... who saw it as a sign that war was imminent,'' the agency said.

An anti-American march was scheduled to take place in Tehran Friday to denounce the U.S. military presence in the Gulf, the hard-line newspaper Jomhuri Eslami said Thursday.

The protest comes as American sportsmen compete in Tehran at an international wrestling tournament, the first visit by a U.S. sports team to Iran since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Hardliners have opposed the U.S. visit, but the American wrestlers have been warmly received by Iranian sports fans.

An Iranian analyst at a state foreign policy institute has said a mission to Baghdad by United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan was unlikely to succeed.

``America cannot put back a drawn sword and an American attack on Iraq appears imminent,'' said Abbas Araqchi, quoted by the daily Kayhan.

Tehran, which currently heads the 55-member Organization of the Islamic Conference, has called for continued diplomatic efforts to resolve the Iraqi crisis.

Newspapers said Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi held telephone discussions with his Syrian, Yemeni and Omani counterparts and expressed support for Annan's mission to Baghdad to seek a diplomatic solution to the Iraqi crisis.

Iran's state radio urged Iraqi President Saddam Hussein to cooperate with Annan to avoid U.S.-led military strikes which it said was a ``trap that has been laid for him.''

``If the (U.N.) inspection committee suspects... that weapons of mass destruction are stored in Saddam Hussein's palaces, then Iraq should allow inspections of the sites to clear itself of the suspicions and because of the importance of maintaining peace and international security,'' the radio said.

Iran is opposed to the presence of U.S. forces in the Gulf and says any strike against Iraq over the U.N. inspections would jeopardize stability in the oil-rich region.

Tehran also says that Baghdad, its foe in an eight-year war that ended in 1988, must comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions on weapons inspections.

Khatami Thursday told visiting Iraqi Foreign Minister Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf that Baghdad should implement the resolutions ``to deprive America of pretexts for any action.''

Iran remained neutral in the 1991 Gulf War in which U.S.-led forces ended Iraq's occupation of Kuwait.

Freedom Movement of Iran Announced Illegal
TEHRAN-XINHUA - Iranian Interior Minister Abdollah Nouri has announced that the Freedom Movement of Iran (FMI) is illegal, the local daily Kayhan reported Thursday.

FMI's application for a status of informal political party has been rejected by the commission of party supervision, Nouri told students of Tabriz University in Eastern Azerbaijan Province.

The FMI has no legal position in Iran, he said, without giving the reasons, according to the daily.

The Freedom Movement, the only political party in Iran, was founded in 1961 by former Iranian Prime Minister Mehdi Bazargan and fought against the then Shah regime.

It joined the interim government after the 1979 Islamic Revolution which toppled the Shah regime. But it quitted due to disagreements with Iran's late Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini.

Ever since then, the FMI has been criticizing domestic and foreign policies of the Islamic government, particularly over issues related to freedom and democracy.

After the death of Bazargan in January, 1995, the party was barred from carrying out activities following a decision of the authorities to register political parties and organizations in the year.

Nouri announced that the radical group "Ansar Hezbollah," notorious for its resort to violence against other political groups, is also illegal.

He said that if the group wants to gain formal recognition, it should present application for permission to carry out activities.

Iran Says Opposed to any Strike against Iraq
TEHRAN,(Reuters) - Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi told his visiting Iraqi counterpart on Wednesday that Iran opposed any U.S.-led military strike against Iraq in the crisis over U.N. arms inspections.

``Foreigners seek their aims of boosting their presence and harming regional states, but we believe that no use of force is needed to carry out United Nations resolutions and that this is possible through Iraqi cooperation with U.N. inspectors,'' Iran's television quoted Kharrazi as telling Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf.

``There should be coordinated political efforts towards carrying out the United Nations resolutions while safeguarding the honour of the Iraqi people,'' Kharrazi said.

Sahaf briefed Kharrazi on the crisis and urged Iran to continue its diplomatic efforts as head of the 55-member Organisation of the Islamic Conference, the television said.

Iran is opposed to the U.S. military presence in the Gulf and said any military strike against Iraq would jeopardise stability in the oil region.

Tehran also says that Baghdad, its foe in an eight-year war that ended in 1988, must comply with Security Council resolutions on weapons inspections.

Tehran radio said in a commentary that the United States would seek a pretext to strike Iraq even if U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan succeeded in finding a solution to the crisis during his coming mission to Iraq.

``In order to decrease America's chance for finding a pretext, the International community expects (Iraqi President) Saddam Hussein to accept this community's demands and help pave the way to a peaceful resolution of the crisis and defeat the aims of those who support using force,'' the radio said.

Relations between Iran and Iraq have been improving but the two neighbours remain in disagreement over several issues.

Tehran remained neutral in the 1991 U.S.-led Gulf War which ended Baghdad's occupation of Kuwait.

American Wrestlers Are Stars at Tehran Bazaar
By Steven Swindells
TEHRAN,(Reuters) - Members of a U.S. wrestling team went shopping at a Tehran bazaar on Wednesday, attracting Iranian well-wishers eager to have their photos taken with the first American sports team in Iran since the 1979 revolution.

The five sportsmen will take part in a two-day freestyle wrestling competition in Tehran starting on Thursday, a prospect that has raised comparisons with a ground-breaking visit of American table tennis players to China in the 1970s.

``The visit to the bazaar was terrific. People were very friendly. They said hello to us and asked for our pictures to be taken,'' said Larry Sciacchetano, president of USA Wrestling, the governing body of U.S. amateur wrestling.

``It was really nice,'' he added. New Yorker John Giura, a 34-year-old former World Cup champion said he was thrilled with Tehran, particularly the snow-capped Alborz mountain range which overlooks the bustling city of about seven million people.

``People were very friendly in the bazaar and I bought some pistachio nuts. The mountains are also fantastic,'' Giura said.

He and wrestlers Zeke Jones, Shawn Charles, Kevin Jackson and Melvin Douglas, together with officials from USA Wrestling, later carried sports bags emblazoned with the national logo USA to a weigh-in at the 12,000-seat Azadi (Freedom) sports complex for Thursday's competition.

``I am very much looking forward to the competition. It is going to be a tough one,'' said Giura.

Wrestling in Iran holds the same prestige as table tennis in China, being Iran's traditional sport and its most successful in terms of Olympic and World Championship medals.

Iran's head coach Amir Reza Khadem said he planned to have around 50 of his wrestlers take part in the freestyle part of the competition.

The visit by the American wrestlers comes just weeks after Iran's new President Mohammad Khatami, a moderate Shi'ite Moslem cleric, in a historic interview with CNN, urged a dialogue between Americans and Iranians to bring about a ``crack in the wall of mistrust'' between the two countries.

``Things are going well. Americans have arrived in Tehran and the sky hasn't fallen in... The reception has been good,'' said John Marks, president of Search for Common Ground, a non- governmental organisation based in Washington.

The U.S. team carried the Stars and Stripes at an official opening ceremony at the tournament on Wednesday and the American flag was hung from the arena's ceiling.

Iran's state television has not broadcast pictures of the U.S. flag but showed the stadium and members of other teams from the more than a dozen countries taking part in the wrestling tournament.

Iranian hardliners, hostile to any ties with the United arch-foe United States, have blasted the visit.

The hardline daily Jomhuri Eslami demanded that the U.S. team be barred from visiting the Islamic state and raised questions over the safety of the wrestlers.

But there was no sign of added security at the five-star hotel in Tehran where the team is staying, though filming by news organisations inside the hotel has not been allowed.

Further evidence emerged on Wednesday of growing exchanges between people of the two countries.

Tehran's leading foreign policy research body, the Institute for Political and International Studies (IPIS), expects American academics and former government advisers to attend a two-day conference next week on ``regional attitudes in the Persian Gulf,'' an IPIS official said.

Saudi King Receives Iranian PRESIDENT'S Message
The letter was handed by visiting Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Sayyed Mohammad Sadr, according to reports of Saudi Press Agency which did not reveal the details of the letter.

Diplomatic sources was quoted by Kuwait News Agency as saying that the letter reflects the concern of the Iranian government at the growing chances of the military option.

Iran opposes the use of force in the crisis with Iraq while Saudi Arabia has called for exhausting diplomatic efforts to avoid resorting to military option, but both countries called for Iraq to comply with the U.N. Security Council resolutions.

On the same day, Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah Ibn Abdul Aziz received separate telephone calls from King Hussein of Jordan and Syrian President Hafez Al-Assad.

Hussein and Al-Assad discussed with the Saudi crown prince the latest developments in the Iraq-U.N. stand-off and the repercussions of using force against Iraq to force Baghdad to implement the U.N. resolutions in case diplomacy failed in defusing the crisis, Saudi Press Agency said.

They also discussed other Arab and international issues and bilateral relations.

Iran parliament speaker hopes Rushdie will be killed
TEHRAN, (Reuters) - The speaker of the Iranian parliament said on Sunday he hoped Moslems would kill British author Salman Rushdie as a lesson to "those who oppose God and God's prophets," the official Iranian news agency IRNA said.

"(Ali Akbar Nateq-Nouri), the speaker of the Majlis (parliament) expressed hope...that the execution order of the apostate Salman Rushdie will be carried out by Moslems to teach a lesson to those who oppose God and God's prophets," IRNA said. It said Nateq-Nouri was speaking in parliament to mark the ninth anniversary of the fatwa (religious ruling) issued by the late Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini months before his death. An Iranian newspaper said the country's Revolutionary Guards has issued a statement supporting Khomeini's fatwa. "The statement described the fatwa as irrevocable and emphasised Rushdie should be punished for his scandalous action," the Persian-language Farda newspaper said.
Khomeini's ruling condemned Rushdie to death for alleged blasphemy against Islam in his novel "The Satanic Verses" and said any Moslem in a position to kill the author had a duty to do so. Rushdie has since been living in hiding. "The apostate Rushdie has insulted all sanctities and all great prophets and particularly Islam's dear Prophet (Mohammad), and Imam Khomeini issued this order on the basis of the principles of Islam and (Islamic) sharia law," Nateq-Nouri said.

The ruling angered Western governments. Britain, current EU president, urged Iran not to carry out the death sentence and to work with the European Union to find a satisfactory solution. Iran has said the order was irrevocable and expressed "surprise" over Britain's call for negotiations.

Tehran maintains the fatwa is a religious matter unrelated to the government. Iranian officials say no one can rescind the order but Tehran will not send anyone to kill Rushdie. Tehran, however, refuses to provide a written guarantee on that.
"(Foreign Ministry spokesman Mahmoud Mohammadi) said a fatwa by a supreme religious jurisprudence is irrevocable and will remain (so throughout) history," IRNA reported on Saturday. An Iranian Foundation which has promised a $2.5 million reward to anyone who kills Rushdie was reported to have said it was considering increasing the bounty.

"We will make the proper decision about the increase of the bounty at the right time and considering the circumstances," the Iranian Jumhouri Islami newspaper quoted Ayatollah Hassan Sanei, head of the 15th Khordad foundation, as saying. "Thank God we have the necessary finance to pay for the bounty," he said.

Iran Groups May Up Rushdie Bounty
By Anwar Faruqi
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- A state-run Iranian foundation might increase the $2.5 million bounty on author Salman Rushdie, its leader said in comments published Saturday.

The 15th Khordad Foundation, which last year upped a $2 million bounty to $2.5 million, will consider another increase, the foundation's leader, Ayatollah Hassan Sanei, was quoted as saying.

``It will be commensurate with the time and place that the sentence is carried out,'' the Jomhuri Islami newspaper quoted Sanei as saying in a special issue to mark the ninth anniversary of Iran's fatwa, or religious decree, against Rushdie.

He said that if Rushdie were killed in the United States, the prize on his head would almost certainly be raised because ``all Muslims hate the United States.''

The Indian-born British writer has lived largely in hiding and under the protection of the British government since Iran's late revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, ordered his death.

In a Feb. 14, 1989, decree, he said that Rushdie had allegedly insulted the Prophet Mohammed in his book ``The Satanic Verses.''

Iran's chief prosecutor, Morteza Moqtadaie, renewed the death sentence Friday.

The leader of the foundation setting the bounty was quoted in Saturday's paper as saying that commitment to killing Rushdie would only grow stronger with time, despite the election of a moderate cleric as Iran's president last year.

``I think that every day the issue will become more serious. In the near future the arrow shot from the bow will hit its target,'' Sanei said.

Jomhuri Islami marks the anniversary of the fatwa every year with a special issue. This year, it ran a front-page caricature of Rushdie, with a noose dangling before him. Another cartoon showed a handgun and a target, with Rushdie's face in the middle.

State-run Tehran radio also marked the anniversary of the fatwa, saying ``the destruction of this man's worthless life could breathe new life into Islam.''

The Rushdie issue has long strained ties between Iran and Britain. On Saturday, the 15-member European Union called on Iran to enter a dialogue aimed at withdrawing the death sentence.

The 15th Khordad Foundation is involved in social projects such as building schools. Iran traces the beginning of its revolution against the Shah to the 15th of Khordad on the Iranian calendar (June 5), when a 1963 speech by Khomeini led to an uprising that was crushed by the government, leaving as many as 3,000 dead.

Iran Cleric Says Rushdi Must Die
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) -- Iran's chief prosecutor insisted today that author Salman Rushdie still must die for allegedly blaspheming Islam, reinforcing the death edict nine years after it was issued.

``The shedding of this man's blood is obligatory,'' prosecutor Morteza Moqtadaie declared.

In a fatwa, or Islamic decree, on Feb. 14, 1989, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini said that Rushdie should be killed for allegedly insulting the Prophet Mohammed in his book, ``The Satanic Verses.''

Since then, Rushdie has lived largely in hiding and under the protection of the British government.

``Any Muslim who hears an insult to the prophet must kill the person who commits the insult. It is better that those closest to that person try to kill him first,'' Moqtadaie said in a sermon today at Tehran University.

Worshippers shouted ``Allahu Akbar,'' or ``God is great,'' when he said ``Rushdie must die.''

Moqtadaie, a senior cleric, said that during his lifetime Mohammed had sent two people to cut the throat of a man who had insulted him. ``What Imam Khomeini did is exactly what the prophet did, and this (death sentence) must be preserved,'' he said.

Moqtadaie is a hard-liner whose faction opposes the moderate president, Mohammad Khatami. Since he took office in August, Khatami has been trying to moderate Iran's foreign policy and improve ties with the West.

Khomeini, Iran's revolutionary leader, died of cancer four months after issuing his decree. Iranian leaders insist the fatwa cannot be revoked. The issue has long strained relations with Britain and other Western countries.


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