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Iranians brave clampdown, rain for Berlin protest

By Emma Thomasson

BERLIN, July 10 (Reuters) - Several thousand Iranians demonstrated in Berlin on Monday against a landmark visit by President Mohammad Khatami despite special security measures by German police and incessant rain.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCR) -- the political wing of the Iraq-based Mujahideen Khalq armed opposition -- said it expected 20,000 people at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate.

But by midday police estimated only about 3,000 protesters had gathered, although they said the numbers might swell later when a march was planned through the German capital. The NCR said up to 10,000 people had been prevented from reaching Berlin.

German authorities have turned back Iranians at the German border in recent days, ordered others to report to police and searched the homes of activists suspected of planning violence.

``I would have expected more from German democracy,'' said Mitra Bagheri, an NCR activist who has lived in the country for six years. ``But despite all these restrictions, all these people are here.''

The protesters beat drums, waved green-white-and-red Iranian flags without the central Islamic symbol, and carried banners with slogans such as ``Trade with the mullahs hurts human rights.'' Paintings portrayed Khatami with vampire teeth and breathing fire.


Huge screens showed satirical political videos accompanied by pulsating dance music, while men dressed as imams led others wearing mock prison garb with nooses around their necks.

``Freedom of expression is being curtailed today at the heart of Europe for the sake of Khatami,'' said Perviz Khazai, NCR representative in Scandinavia.

``Democracy is not being exported to Iran by this visit, but Iranian oppression is being imported into Germany.''

Many demonstrators held up pictures of Massoud and Maryam Rajavi, leaders of the Mujahideen Khalq, although they had been specifically banned from doing so by the German police.

Others wore bright orange jackets emblazoned with ``Khatami No! Rajavi Yes!''

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who the president was due to meet later in the day following talks with Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, has suggested that protests in Germany could play into the hands of anti-Khatami religious conservatives.

But Iranian exiles said Khatami's image as a reformer was just a front for the existing system.

``Why is the world and the German government so excited about supporting someone who has been responsible for the executions of political prisoners?'' asked Dowlat Nowrovzi, who has been in exile in Europe for 20 years.

``There is a lot of propaganda regarding the mullahs wanting change. But it is still all one party. Khatami is a mullah who wants the system to remain. Khatami is no Gorbachev,'' she said.


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