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Senior Iranian cleric lashes out at US over Jewish spy case

TEHRAN, Oct 22 (AFP) - A senior Iranian cleric on Friday lashed out at US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright for "interfering" in the trial of 13 Iranian Jews charged with spying for Israel.

"It is strange that a political leader should voice her opinion over the internal affairs of another country," said Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, member of the powerful Council of Experts, a body charged with finding a successor to the supreme leader.

"Why doesn't the world think to say: 'Woman, you who are speaking as the secretary of state, on what logic have you based your remarks, on what basis?'" Kashani said in his sermon at the main weekly Muslim prayers here.

"You are a political leader, not a judicial official ... There are international laws. Relations between the countries of the world are based on laws," the senior cleric said.

"You must defend stability in the world in order that the world recognises you, not instability.

"If human beings should defend wolfish traits, then the world will recognise you as bloodthirsty, wolf-like and oppressive," the conservative cleric charged.

The US secretary of state on Sunday expressed Washington's concern over the case and termed the trial of the Jews as "unacceptable."

"We have made this very clear that this is an unacceptable trial," she said, adding: "There is absolutely no reason for them to be brought up on espionage charges."

The 13 Jews were arrested with seven other Iranians in the southern city of Shiraz between March and April, but their arrest was not made public until reported in the Western media in June.

The 20 face a near certain death sentence if convicted under a 1996 law which calls for capital punishment for those found guilty of spying for Israel or the United States.

No date has been set for the trial, but it is expected to take place in Shiraz, the centre of Iran's 25,000-strong Jewish community, shortly.


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