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Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 September 2007, 06:32 GMT 07:32 UK
Iranian leader enjoys the spotlight
By Jon Leyne
BBC News, New York

Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the UN
Mr Ahmadinejad's speech was uncharacteristic of a world leader
He has said little that he has not said many times before, and it is not his first time at the United Nations.

But for some reason President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has dominated the opening of this year's UN General Assembly.

In his speech, Mr Ahmadinejad offered some broad thoughts on the world and his philosophy.

His speech, he said, was about "prospects for a brighter and more hopeful future, and about the appearance of the sublime and beauty, compassion and generosity, justice and blossoming of all the God-given human talents and the prominence of faith in God and realisation of the promise of God".

The headlines were about the Iranian nuclear programme.

'Broad aggression'

But most of the speech was part religious sermon, part a tirade against globalisation and modernisation.

Mr Ahmadinejad spoke of indigenous cultures being subjected to "broad and destructive aggressions" by the big powers who wanted to plunder peoples' wealth.

It was time for those powers "to return from the path of arrogance and obedience to Satan to the path of faith in God".

It is not the sort of speech usually heard from a world leader - Mr Ahmadinejad clearly believes he is striking a chord and mobilising global opinion.

From that ever-present twinkle in the eye, he certainly seems to be enjoying his moment in the sun.

'Audience gasped'

The storm around Mr Ahmadinejad's visit to New York began with the refusal to let him visit Ground Zero.

But it was the invitation to address students at Columbia University that produced the most sustained controversy.

Outside the university, protestors compared him with Adolf Hitler, and pointed out that he was taking advantage of a freedom of speech that he did not allow back in Iran.

There have been dark mutterings of the university funding being cut off.

But the real story was not the opponents, but those who wanted to listen.

Tickets for the event were snatched up within an hour of becoming available.

Thousands more students sat on the lawn outside to watch the address on a big screen.

From Mr Ahmadinejad, they heard an address about Islam, and science, and the injustices of the Middle East.

But it was the University president, Lee Bollinger, who stole the show.

When he accused the Iranian president of being a cruel and petty tyrant, the audience gasped, and then applauded.

On reflection some people had second thoughts.

A man in my hotel lift mused about whether the Iranian president had been treated fairly by the university that had invited him onto their grounds.

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