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Last Updated: Thursday, 30 June, 2005, 17:11 GMT 18:11 UK
Iranians in Belgian alcohol row
Man carrying tray with wine glasses
Belgians are great beer- and wine lovers
Iranian officials on a visit to Belgium have upset their hosts by trying to ban alcohol from the lunch table and refusing to shake women's hands.

Belgium's parliament speaker, Herman De Croo, decided to cancel a lunch rather than hosting a meal with no wine.

Strict Islamic teaching instructs Muslims to avoid looking at alcohol, as well as to avoid drinking it.

Belgian Senate president Anne-Marie Lizin later cancelled talks with the visitors over the handshake issue.

"We tried to find a solution, but they held fast to their position of not wanting to shake her hand," spokesman Patrick Peremans said.

The Senate said the meeting with the 12-strong delegation had been called off because of the "continued refusal" of Ms Lizin's counterpart to shake her hand.

Earlier, the alcohol row cost the Iranians their lunch with Mr De Croo.

"I did not receive such demands in writing. But ... I was indirectly asked not to serve alcohol," Mr De Croo told the newspaper De Standaard.

"Even for someone tolerant like Herman De Croo, that's going a bit far," he added.

Mr De Croo will meet the Iranians for one-hour talks on Friday instead.

'No toasting'

A spokesman for parliament confirmed that the Iranians would not have been expected to join their Belgian hosts in drinking or toasting.

"Guests are not obliged to have alcohol, but we didn't want to bow to outside rules," the spokesman said, adding that Belgian deputies had chosen to "stick to Western customs".

The delegation is led by the head of the conservative Tehran assembly, Gholam Ali Hadad Adel.

Iran has just taken the world by surprise by electing a new hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Several EU officials have voiced concern over Iran's new course despite the president-elect's pledge to continue nuclear talks.





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