Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 August 2019

Iran opposition group calls for regime change in Paris march

The group's annual rally last year was the target of an alleged bomb plot

People wave former Iranian flags and a picture of Maryam Rajavi, leader of the People's Mujahedin of Iran. AFP
People wave former Iranian flags and a picture of Maryam Rajavi, leader of the People's Mujahedin of Iran. AFP

Several thousand supporters of an exiled Iranian opposition group marched through Paris on Friday, calling for an end to Iran's clerical regime 40 years after the Islamic revolution toppled Iran's monarchy.

The Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, widely referred to in the West as the MEK, were joined at the rally by an array of speakers before the march, from former and current French politicians to a one-time Algerian prime minister and a Syrian opposition figure.

Crowds waved posters of group leader Maryam Rajavi and founder Massoud Rajavi – not seen since 2003 in Iraq, where the MEK once had a camp and waged war against Iran before being disarmed by invading US troops.

The group bases its headquarters outside Paris with several thousand members in Albania, extracted in a UN-brokered effort from Iraq. Supporters are scattered elsewhere in the West as part of the Iranian diaspora.

Security was tight during the rally and march through Paris' Left Bank. The group's annual rally last year was the target of an alleged bomb plot, which was thwarted by arrests. An Austrian-based Iranian diplomat is being held in Belgium, where police found bomb material in the car of a couple of Iranian origin.

"As long as we're dealing with the main state sponsor of terrorism, there is a concern ... But that will never stop us," MEK spokesman Shahin Gobadi said. The MEK hones to US President Donald Trump's hard line on Iran, and supports US sanctions on Iran.

One speaker, former French Senator Jean-Pierre Michel, said in an interview that "I'm not a fanatic of Mr Trump ... but I think the United States is right about Iran." He chastised Europeans for what he views as their softer approach to Tehran.

Mr Michel, 80, is a long-time supporter of the Mujahedeen, which has drawn around it numerous US and European parliamentarians and former officials who disagree with critics' portrayal of the organisation as cult-like.

He praised MEK for having a woman at its head who says she wants democracy and separation of church and state in a future Iran, and he hopes one day to visit Tehran with Rajavi, saying, "It keeps me alive."

Meanwhile, Iran's

supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Friday that Europe "cannot be trusted", a week after the EU launched a trade mechanism to bypass US sanctions on Tehran.

"These days there's talk of the Europeans and their proposals. My advice is that they shouldn't be trusted, just like the Americans," he said at a meeting with air force officials, his website reported.

"I'm not saying we shouldn't have relations with them. This is about trust," he added.

Britain, France and Germany last week launched a special payment mechanism called INSTEX to help save the 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and world powers.

It would allow Tehran to keep trading with EU companies in spite of US sanctions renewed after Washington quit the accord last year.

Tehran has cautiously welcomed INSTEX as a "first step", but US officials said the new entity would not have any impact on efforts to exert economic pressure on Iran.

Khamenei also accused Europe of hypocrisy over human rights, criticising France's treatment of protesters in Paris.

"They (anti-riot police) attack protesters in Paris streets and blind them, then they have the audacity to make human rights requests of us," he said.

Updated: February 9, 2019 03:59 PM

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