09/21/2006, 00.00
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Ahmadinejad proclaims respect for pope but Iran has strange anti-Catholic coalition

by Dariush Mirzai

Foreigners, Armenians and minorities have taken to the streets, but the "students" have not. Tomorrow, however, the Islamic Propagation Office has called a rally in Teheran to "show anger and hatred".

Teheran (AsiaNews) – Despite Ahmadinejad's proclamations of "respect" for Benedict XVI, the anti-pope controversy is not yet over in the Islamic republic of Iran. However, there is no popular uprising and the regime so far has not used the fervent ranks of "bassij", the "students", as it did in the controversy about the Muhammad cartoons in February. But tomorrow, Friday, a day of prayer, the

Islamic Propagation Office has invited Iranian Muslims to a demonstration in Teheran, to "show the anger and hatred" of the faithful against the "anti-Islamic" statements of the pope.

The tenors of the regime, the Supreme Guide Khamenei and the powerful and very rich Hashemi Rafsanjani, stoked controversy against the pope, accusing him of collusion with Zionist and US circles (Khamenei) or of "irrationality" (Rafsanjani).

Yesterday's demonstrations were quite strange: authorised if not organised by the authorities, they gathered "strangers" and "minorities". A group of Armenians and other demonstrators gathered outside Hosseinieh Ershad mosque to protest against the pope's "anti-Islamic" attitude. In Iran, the Armenians constitute quite an important minority that enjoys historic status of "privileged" inferiority. What's more, they are Orthodox, but there is also an Armenian Catholic community – a Salesian priest of Armenian rite was recently ordained in Teheran. This demonstration is one of those typical signs of "peace" and obedience that allow Iranian minorities to survive.

Another particular demonstration was that held by foreign Islamic "seminarians" of Qom, including a group of Americans who shouted, apart from the classic "Down with America" and "Down with Israel", a bizarre "Down with the pope". Gathered outside Qom's World Center for Islamic Sciences, they approved a manifesto addressed to "Mr Pope" and accused Christianity of having caused the last two world wars and thus of being without reason and without any right to criticize the use of violence in the name of religion.

Photos of the leader of the Lebanese Hezbollah, Nasrallah, have been taken down from the streets of Teheran and right now, the faces of "martyrs" (shahid) from the Iraq war are exposed.

On Friday at 7am, a traditional military parade will take place near the Mausoleum of Khomeini. In this atmosphere, the next attack of propaganda should not target religious minorities but rather "arrogant" states opposed to Iran's nuclear policy. This was announced by Ahmadinejad's address in New York yesterday.

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See also
Pope talks about the Middle East, the Holy Land and the food crisis with Bush
Rise above controversy about pope, say Lebanese bishops on day for peace
Pope: I was misunderstood about Islam, may my words become an opportunity for dialogue
Pope: social issues and gospel are inseparable, but God must "be in centre"
Syria's Grand Mufti says Pope's explanation "more than enough"


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