Exiled Iranian opposition group leads election protest outside Paris
CERGY, France (AP) – Several thousand people protested Iran’s presidential election Saturday at a rally led by an exiled Iranian opposition group that denounced the vote as a sham. French human rights activists and political personalities joined Iranians, who came from several countries to attend the gathering at a stadium in the suburb of Cergy, northwest of Paris. Authorities at the regional Val d’Oise prefecture said the rally drew between 5,000 and 7,000 people.
The protest was organized by the National Council of Resistance, the political arm of the Mujahedeen Khalq. The group, which opposes Iran’s ultra-religious government, has been based in France since shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution toppled Iran’s shah.
Both the United States and the European Union have placed the Mujahedeen Khalq on their lists of terrorist organizations.
Chanting: "Mullahs, No!" protesters waved posters of the husband-and-wife leaders of the Mujahedeen, Maryam and Massoud Rajavi.
Maryam Rajavi, speaking at the rally, denounced the election as an "electoral farce" and said voters have the choice "between two terrorists."
Iran will hold the first runoff presidential election in its history after voters Friday failed to give any of the candidates an outright majority and hard-liners made an unexpectedly strong showing.
The runoff will be held between political veteran Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, a pragmatist considered the favorite from the start, and Tehran’s hard-line mayor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
At the rally outside Paris, protesters chanted: "With Maryam Rajavi, democracy in Iran!" Those attending the demonstration included Mouloud Aounit, head of the French anti-racism group, MRAP, former French parliamentarian Alain Vivien and French philosopher Albert Jacquard.
The gathering also marked the second anniversary of a French police sweep in which dozens of the Mujahedeen’s members were arrested, including Maryam Rajavi.
That set off protests, with two Mujahedeen supporters burning themselves to death. Six others were injured after they set themselves on fire. Seventeen people, including Rajavi, were placed under investigation – a step short of being charged – on suspicion of associating with or financing terrorist groups. She was held about two weeks before being released.
The Iraq-based military wing of Rajavi’s movement was disarmed by the U.S.-led occupation forces.
By PIERRE-YVES ROGER
Associated Press Writer