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
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
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.