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Khatami opens Tehran's biggest international trade fair since revolution

TEHRAN, Oct 2 (AFP) - President Mohammad Khatami on Saturday opened Iran's biggest international trade fair since the 1979 Islamic revolution, paying particular attention to the stand of its largest European trade partner Germany with whom ties have been strained recently.

The Iranian head of state carefully viewed the various German industrial products displayed in and around the German stand, one of the fair's major exhibits.

Relations between Tehran and Berlin have come under pressure over the case of a German businessman detained for almost two years for alleged sexual relations with an Iranian Muslim woman.

Crowds of people gathered around the president, greeting and applauding him. More than 72 countries, 1,466 Iranian companies and 785 foreign firms are due to take part in the fair, including Iranians representing two US drug companies.

It is not the first time that US firms have been represented at the fair even though US legislation imposes a unilateral trade embargo on all but food and medical exports to Iran.

For the first time since the fair was launched under the shah 25 years ago, regional rival Egypt is also exhibiting.

The two countries were major allies before the revolution, but are now only represented by their interest sections. Iraqi and Saudi delegations are also to visit the fair, as well as representatives from Jordan.

Austria, Britain, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, South Korea and Turkey will exhibit among others.

A sprawling 15,000 square metre (161,000 square foot) site in Tehran's wealthy northern suburbs has been set aside for the fair's foreign exhibitors.

Iranian officials have said they attach great importance to this year's fair, which comes as Tehran seeks to reduce its dependence on exports of its main commodity oil.

Last month Deputy Trade Minister Mojataba Khosro-Taj said he hoped the fair would help Iran to reduce its current 85 percent dependency on oil revenues and bring in badly needed hard currency for its ailing economy.

Iran, which is the second biggest producer in the Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) after Saudi Arabia, was hit hard by last year's sharp drop in oil prices, suffering a budget shortfall of at least five billion dollars.

Its main non-oil exports consist of chemical products, plastics and pistachio nuts which are expected to raise some three billion dollars in revenues by the end of the current Iranian year in March 2000.


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