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Khatami calls for new East, West dialogue

By Emma Thomasson

WEIMAR, Germany, July 12 (Reuters) - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, the target of protesters' slogans and banners, wound up a landmark visit to Germany on Wednesday with a call for a new era of dialogue between eastern and western culture.

As he called for talk between civilisations and cultures, groups of protesters breached tight security to accuse the Iranian government of stifling free speech.

``New doors must be broken open for a true dialogue between civilisations and cultures, to recognise the reality of the world and enable new insights into the eastern and western world,'' Khatami told a panel discussion on a visit to east Germany's cultural capital Weimar.

The moderate cleric, whose reform efforts since his election in 1997 have met stiff resistance from an isolationist Islamic elite, has used his three-day visit to state his case for democracy and a cultural reconciliation with the West.

Khatami, who urged the United States on Tuesday to take the next step to revive diplomatic relations -- broken off after Tehran's 1979 Islamic revolution -- said that outside support for reforms in Iran was important.

But he stressed that the Islamic republic would not simply adopt a Western model as it strives for greater personal freedoms.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said it would be a great mistake not to back Khatami in his reform drive -- which offered a ``great chance for human rights, democracy, peace and stability,'' he told the Sueddeutsche Zeitung in an interview to be published in the paper's Thursday edition.

Fischer said patient diplomacy was essential to integrate Iran in the international community, stressing the need for sensitivity to reformers' domestic power struggles.


Khatami defended Iran's conviction this month of 10 Jews for spying for Israel and suggested leniency could be shown when the case, which aroused international concerns, goes to appeal.

``Justice is not the responsibility of the government,'' Khatami said, adding that the convicted had not been treated differently because the accused were Jews.

``The judgment was much milder than in other spying cases,'' he said. ``After the appeal the situation of those condemned might be better than now.''

Amid tight security -- a major feature of the first visit by an Iranian leader in 33 years -- Khatami and German President Johannes Rau declared open a monument to the 14th century Persian poet Hafez, who inspired Johann Wolfgang von Goethe -- Germany's most celebrated poet and author of the epic ``Faust.''

``This discussion between Goethe and Hafez stands for a poetic and beautiful dialogue between East and West,'' Khatami told a crowd in the main park in Weimar.

Despite a police crackdown, groups of protesters managed to make their presence felt, waving banners and shouting slogans, although the part of Weimar where Khatami spent the day was completely blocked off to the public by hundreds of police.

Young conservatives from Germany's Junge Union hung placards from windows overlooking the historic square where Goethe lived, accusing the Iranian government of stifling free speech.

Two Iranian women shouted slogans and hung an anti-Khatami banner from another window, while drumming and shouting by some Iranian exiles could be heard from a nearby square.

``How can he talk about Goethe and culture, when in Iran they are gouging out eyes?'' said Farzin Hashemi, an activist for the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political wing of the Iraq-based Mujahideen Khalq armed opposition movement.

``He is misusing culture to open up economic deals,'' Hashemi said, highlighting Tuesday's deal for a German firm to build a petrochemicals plant in the oil-rich Middle Eastern state.

Police, seeking to avoid the violence that accompanied a visit by Iran's Shah in 1967, said they had detained at least 30 Iranians in and around Weimar for various offences and witnesses said police had scuffled with protesters several times.

The authorities have taken tough measures for Khatami's visit, turning back Iranians at the border, ordering others to report to police, searching the homes of activists suspected of planning violence and making numerous arrests.


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