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Friday, September 25, 1998 Published at 07:49 GMT 08:49 UK


Rushdie enjoys 'freedom'

Salman Rushdie, with the offending novel

Salman Rushdie holds a news conference at 1300 BST/1200 GMT.

 Click here to watch

Salman Rushdie: threat falling away like dust
Salman Rushdie is enjoying his first day for nine years without a state-sponsored death threat hanging over his head.

The author of the controversial book The Satanic Verses has welcomed a statement issued by Iran distancing itself from the Islamic fatwa issued against him.

Mr Rushdie and a senior member of the UK Goverment are due to hold a news conference in London later.

Robin Cook: 'Our two governments share some common interests'
But British officials said they did not imagine that the novelist would be walking up and down Oxford Street in central London.

Full diplomatic relations are being restored between Iran and the UK following the rift over his novel.

James Robbins: British officials say Salman Rushdie is still in danger from extremists
The Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme the government would also be looking to the Iranian Government to make sure no individual fanatic threatened the life of Mr Rushdie.

BBC Correspondent Jim Muir: moderates have backing for the move
"The government of Iran quite frankly and clearly says it will not take any action whatsoever to threaten Salman Rushdie or anybody associated with his work. And it's not going to assist anybody else to carry out such a threat

"Now that is a breakthrough. It is much the clearest statement we've had from the government of Iran. It makes it perfectly clear they want nothing to do with any threat to Salman Rushdie."

It means freedom - Rushdie

Following the announcement, Mr Rushdie expressed his relief, saying: "It means everything - it means freedom.

Salman Rushdie: "It looks like it's over"
"There's one or two self-styled hardliners in England belonging to tinpot organisations who are saying this and that, but they're completely unimportant."

"After 10 years an extraordinary thing has been achieved," Mr Rushdie said.

[ image: Kamal Kharrazi: Government does not back bounty]
Kamal Kharrazi: Government does not back bounty

Iran's Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said after a meeting in New York with Mr Cook: "The Iranian Government dissociates itself from any reward which has been offered in this regard and does not support it."

Mr Cook said he was delighted to re-open diplomatic relations.

"These assurances should make possible a much more constructive relationship between the United Kingdom, and I believe the European Union, with Iran and the opening of a new chapter in our relations."

However, Dr Kharrazi's comments stopped short of lifting Iran's death sentence on Mr Rushdie.

[ image: Ayatollah Khomeini: Issued fatwa]
Ayatollah Khomeini: Issued fatwa
The author has been living under police protection since 1989 when Iran's late spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, a religious edict, calling for him to be killed.

Dr Kharrazi said Mr Rushdie was still guilty of blasphemous abuse of their religion.

Iranian officials say they are powerless to lift Khomeini's fatwa, saying it could have been lifted only by the revolutionary leader himself.

Fatwa 'cannot be withdrawn'

In Britain many Muslims agree the fatwa can never be withdrawn.

Assessments of the level of protection he needs will continue to be done an official said.

Dr Ghayasuddin Sidiqui, leader of the self-styled Muslim parliament, said Mr Rushdie was still in danger from Islamic extremists, even if relations between the UK and Iran have improved.

He said: "I don't think the Iranian Government can do anything at all.

"They can make promises, but that is all they can do."

Iran has been trying to change its foreign policy ever since Mohammad Khatami, a moderate cleric, took over as president in August 1997.

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