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Friday, October 16, 1998 Published at 22:47 GMT 23:47 UK


Rushdie meeting amid calls for death

Salman Rushdie: Requested meeting after new threats

Salman Rushdie has held a meeting with the UK Foreign Secretary, Robin Cook, amid renewed calls in Iran for his death.

Three weeks ago, the UK and Iran agreed to re-establish full diplomatic relations after the Iranian Government promised to do nothing to harm the author.

This was despite the religious edict pronounced by the late Ayatollah Khomeini, which called for Mr Rushdie's death because of what it said was blasphemy in his novel The Satanic Verses.

But the bounty on the novelist's head has since been raised, and Friday saw a noisy demonstration in Tehran demanding that he should be killed.

[ image: Robin Cook is saying nothing]
Robin Cook is saying nothing
These developments have revived fears about Mr Rushdie's security and the writer himself requested Friday's meeting with Mr Cook.

There was no comment from either side afterwards.

The BBC's Diplomatic Correspondent, Barnaby Mason, says the Foreign Office is saying as little as possible and is hoping Mr Rushdie will do the same.

He says officials privately regard Mr Rushdie to have been unwise when he said that he did not regret writing The Satanic Verses, the book which led to the fatwa being issued.

'Rushdie must die'

Hours before the meeting took place, militants staged a noisy demonstration after Friday prayers in Tehran calling for the fatwa to be carried out.

Demonstrators chanted "Rushdie must die" as one speaker warned the Iranian Government there would be problems if it tried to interfere with the fatwa.

He said there could be no turning back from the late Ayatollah's edict.

After the rally, the militants unveiled a huge wall portrait of Mustafa Mazeh, who was killed by a bomb explosion in London in 1989, which Iranians believe was intended for Mr Rushdie.

[ image: President Khatami: Hardline backlash before election]
President Khatami: Hardline backlash before election
The moderate President Khatami's government appears to have failed in its attempt to to cool the situation.

Many also blame Mr Rushdie's lack of conciliation, and the timing of important nationwide elections in Iran next week.

Hardliners have used the agreement as a stick with which to beat the moderates in the run-up to the poll.

The pressure also appears to have prompted Iran's foreign minister to say there had been no change in Tehran's stand on the affair.

Meanwhile, a religious foundation has increased the bounty it is offering for killing the author. A hardline student group added more cash, bringing the total to £1.6m.

A Foreign Office spokesman said before the meeting between Mr Cook and the novelist that the UK believed that last month's deal still stands.

Preparations to exchange ambassadors were continuing, but he added that London has asked Tehran for clarification over recent developments.

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12 Oct 98†|†From Our Own Correspondent
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10 Oct 98†|†UK
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