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Khatami rebukes Europe for backing Rushdie

TEHRAN, March 11 (AFP) - Iranian President Mohammad Khatami broke from his pro-Western message in Italy to deliver a stinging rebuke to European nations which have supported author Salman Rushdie.

Khatami criticised European nations for backing "a person who has desecrated ... the feelings of more than one billion Moslems" around the world, the official news agency IRNA reported.

"All Moslem countries and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference" have "confirmed" the death sentence against Rushdie, ordered in 1979 by the Islamic republic's founder, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, he said.

"The late imam Khmoeini issued the verdict as a great religious leader of Moslems," Khatami said Wednesday, but added that Iran has previously said it will not actively seek to see the sentence imposed.

The world has reached a stage of "dialogue amongst civilisations and cultures," he said.

Khomeini issued a religious decree or fatwa calling for the death of the Indian-born British writer for alleged blasphemy in his satiric novel "The Satanic Verses."

Rushdie was in the Italian city of Turin to receive an honorary doctorate Wednesday as Khatami was making a high-profile visit to Italy, in a trip marked by the Iranian leader's repeated calls for improved relations between Europe and the Islamic republic.

The Iranian press on Thursday found the timing of Rushdie's visit anything but coincidental.

"One cannot but reach the conclusion that at least some officials of the Italian government fully intended to insult our president, our nation and our religious beliefs," said the English-language Iran News, widely read by foreign diplomats here.

"The Italian foreign ministry must be held accountable," it said.

The hardline Jomhuri Islam paper accused "pro-Zionist militants in the Italian foreign ministry" of orchestrating the Rushdie visit and said "Italian officials have failed to give an explanation" of his presence.

"Iran remembers that Italy and Europe are safe havens for terrorists that continue to attack and insult our nation," the pro-Khatami Kar-o-Kargar paper said.


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