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Britain to continue Rushdie protection despite renewed Iran ties

LONDON, Sept 22 (AFP) - Britain said Wednesday it would continue its protection of author Salman Rushdie -- condemnmed to death a decade ago in a fatwa from Iran's then spiritual leader -- despite improved diplomatic links with Tehran.

Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said: "We will remain vigilant to make sure that we do secure the interests of Salman Rushdie in both his safety and his right to express himself freely."

Cook told the BBC he believed the Iranian government was "actively" trying to prevent the fatwa being carried out, but said: "We will make sure we do keep the issue of Salman Rushdie very firmly on the agenda."

Iran's late spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a decree, or fatwa, condemning Rushdie to death in February 1989 following publication of his novel The Satanic Verses, deemed blasphemous to the Islamic religion.

Cook and his Iranian counterpart, Kamal Kharazi, on Tuesday agreed to exchange visits for the first time in 20 years, during a meeting on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York. The visits will be the first since the Iranian revolution in 1979.

Last year at the UN meeting Kharazi told Cook the Iranian government would no longer encourage Muslims to carry out the fatwa.

That meeting led to the restoration of full diplomatic relations between London and Tehran. Britain recently down-graded Rushdie's protection, which at its height saw him using armoured vehicles with round-the-clock bodyguards.

But the author is still unable to live a normal life and never announces his movements in advance. Security chiefs believe his life is at risk from fundamentalist individuals or groups determined to carry out the fatwa.


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