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Majority of Italian deputies oppose Iranian presidential visit

ROME, Feb 25 (AFP) - A majority of Italian deputies have called for the cancellation of Iranian President Mohammad Khatami's planned visit to Italy next month because he leads "a medieval dictatorship of mullahs."

A letter signed by 320 of the parliament's 630 deputies has been sent to Italian Prime Minister Massimo d'Alema, said Forza Italia deputy Marco Taradash.

The call for the cancellation of the March 9-11 visit has cross-party support and is backed by members of the Left Democrats, the main party of the ruling coalition, and leaders of the Italian branch of the National Council of Iranian Resistance.

"It is unacceptable to welcome the president of a medieval dictatorship of mullahs and we demand the immediate cancellation of the visit," the letter said.

The Iranian opposition group and Italian deputies plan a joint demonstration on March 9, when Khatami is due to meet d'Alema, said Taradash.

Deputies opposed to the visit recalled that Khatami, despite his pledges to usher in a more liberal regime in Iran, was a long-serving minister for propaganda under the strictly fundamentalist rule of Ayatollah Khomeini.

The Italian deputies say Iran has failed to improve its human rights record under Khatami's rule and that executions, stonings and torture continue. They also point to killing of intellectuals in Iran.

"The Iranian clerical regime is in its worst-ever political, social and economic condition. It would be betting on a losing horse to choose a policy of reconciliation (with Iran)," said the letter.

The deputies called on the Italian government to pressure Iran to liberalise.


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