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Iranian group says Rushdie death sentence will be carried out

TEHRAN, Feb 14 (AFP) - An Iranian religious foundation insisted Sunday that the death sentence against British author Salman Rushdie will be carried out, upping the political stakes on the 10th anniversary of the fatwa which still bedevils Iran's relations with the West.

"The idea of Rushdie's annihilation is more alive than ever," said Ayatollah Hassan Sanei, president of the Khordad-15 Foundation, which has placed a 2.8 million dollar bounty on Rushdie's head.

"Iran is serious about defending this historic fatwa and wants to see it applied," he told the hardline daily Jomhuri-Eslami.

Sanei insisted that Iran's reformist government had no right to question the validity of the death sentence imposed on Rushdie by the late revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

An announcement by Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi in New York last September that the Iranian government would do nothing to implement the 10-year-old death sentence had prompted Britain to announce its readiness to normalize ties.

Jomhuri-Eslami published an entire special supplement dedicated to the anniversary of the fatwa containing calls from conservative and hardline religious leaders for the death sentence to be carried out.

Lifting the fatwa imposed on Rushdie because of alleged blasphemy against Islam in his novel "The Satanic Verses" is an "illusion," said a letter from Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani.

"The government of the Islamic Republic must be at the forefront of countries defending the fatwa," he said, adding: "Rushdie's book is in fact the work of the British government."

The paper stressed that no government on earth had the power to revoke a decree issued by a cleric of Khomeini's standing. Other papers also expressed support for killing Rushdie and accused the West of using his case to put pressure on Iran.

"We are sure that even those who have never harmed any living creature in their lives would like to kill this beast, not for the sake of the bounty on his head, but so that in the future nobody may dare to repeat what this disgraceful and shameless character has done," said the English-language Tehran Times.

"The West, particularly Britain, is using the issue as an instrument for putting pressure on Iran," the paper's editorial said.

The barrage of press attacks on Rushdie on the anniversary of the fatwa follows a string of hardline comments by prominent conservatives here in recent days.

Khomeini's verdict is "based on Islam" and cannot be retracted, Iran's Revolutionary Guards said on Saturday.

"The apostate Salman Rushdie will eventually be burnt in the fire of Moslems' wrath," the elite force said in a statement.

The guards blasted "certain Western countries and false advocates of freedom of thought and human rights" for conducting a two-year "disinformation campaign to make world people and Moslems believe that Iran has backed down from its stances towards the apostate author Salman Rushdie."

Last September Kharazi distanced his reformist government from the bounty placed on Rushdie's head by the Khordad-15 Foundation and vowed that it would not seek to execute the fatwa.

British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook hailed the assurances he had secured as a change in line sufficient to warrant the full restoration of ties and the two governments agreed to upgrade ties through an exchange of ambassadors.

But outrage in the hardline and conservative press forced Kharazi to issue a statement confirming that he still regarded the fatwa as "irrevocable."

Five months later amid the continuing tirades against Rushdie in the Tehran press, the two governments are still only represented by charges d'affaires.

Kharazi inisted here last week that only issues of protocol still remained to be settled before the exchange of ambassadors was announced.

But he added that "after the exchange of ambassadors further steps have to be taken to fully normalize relations" with Britain.


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