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Wednesday, October 27, 1999 Published at 04:45 GMT

World: Europe

Protests mark Khatami's French visit

President Khatami is on his second European trip since his 1997 election

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has met his French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, in Paris on the first day of a groundbreaking three-day visit, amid protests by human rights activists.

Reports said about 20 demonstrators were detained after throwing eggs at the passing motorcade of the first Iranian head of state to visit France since the Islamic revolution 20 years ago.

[ image: The Mujahedeen opposition denounce Khatami as a
The Mujahedeen opposition denounce Khatami as a "terrorist"
President Khatami described the meeting with Mr Chirac as "very fruitful" and said they shared common viewpoints on many issues.

Earlier, more than 1,000 men, women and children gathered in the Place du Trocadero, near the Eiffel Tower, to voice their opposition to what they called "the terrorist, religious dictatorship" of Iran.

A second demonstration was held later on, demanding the release of 13 Jews being held in prison in Iran on spying charges.

The BBC's Jonathan Hill reports: "This is the most important trip he's made to Europe as president"
Before his arrival, French authorities cracked down on Iranian opposition groups, tightening border controls and staging dawn raids.

Police detained 85 people, raiding Iranian dissident headquarters in and around Paris on Wednesday. All but four were later released.

More than 200 Iranian exiles and people of Iranian origin were refused entry to the country.

Interior Minister Jean-Pierre Chevenement said the raids were spurred by "serious and precise threats".

Speaking after a cabinet meeting, he said "violent demonstrations" had to be avoided and France's laws respected by exiles.

The French police said they were acting on information from the Iranian authorities

'Constructive dialogue'

Following his arrival, which was delayed by fog, Mr Khatami had a brief meeting with French Prime Minister Lionel Jospin.

[ image: Vedrine:
Vedrine:"Frank and open talks"
His planned speech to the general conference of Unesco has been cancelled.

Foreign Minister Hubert Vedrine told parliament on Tuesday that human rights issues in Iran would best be solved by talking with Iranian moderates - who are led by President Khatami.

Mr Vedrine said talks would be frank and direct.

France is the main European proponent of the so-called "constructive dialogue" with Iran.

A disagreement over whether wine would be drunk in front of Mr Khatami - which scuppered an earlier state visit - was resolved by dropping plans for a banquet. His visit was downgraded from "state" to "official".

Relations between Iran and European Union countries have improved in recent years and President Khatami's reformist policies are widely appreciated.

Train deal announced

In a separate development, French energy and transport firm Alstom said it had received an order for 100 diesel-electric locomotives from Iran in a deal worth 192m euros.

"The first 20 locomotives will be manufactured entirely at Alstom's factory in Belfort, eastern France," the company said.

"The remaining 80 units will be assembled in Iran by Pars Wagon, Alstom's local partner for the contract."

The deal was announced shortly after Mr Khatami left Tehran for Paris.

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