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Thursday, March 11, 1999 Published at 22:35 GMT

Iran's media condemns Italy for Rushdie visit

Italian Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema was criticised for questioning Iran's democracy

Iran's media continued to make headline news of the first state visit by a leader to a Western country since 1979, but lashed out at Italy for allowing it to coincide with a visit by controversial British author Salman Rushdie.

President Khatami's meeting with the Pope was described by Tehran radio as "historic" and one which could help provide common solutions to such issues as "piety, ethics, the defence of family values and the struggle against poverty" .

A radio commentary said: "Experts believe that President Khatami's talks with Pope John Paul II will strengthen and increase co-operation between the two religions."

Khatami's visit could be "a positive point of strength for Christians" , the radio said, as Iran had built a bond between religion and democracy, which had never existed in Europe and the West.

"The meeting can seriously question the wrong assumption about the confrontation between religion and democracy, which has become a dominating hypothesis in Europe today.

"Moreover, during President Khatami's visit, the Islamic Republic of Iran is sending another message to the West, and that is, that the religious system of the Islamic Republic in its constitution has recognised the rights of all its religious minorities which believe in monotheism.

Rushdie visit

But the visit to Turin university in northern Italy of British Indian-born writer Salman Rushdie, which overlapped with the President's trip, provoked a storm of criticism in the Iranian press.

The Kayhan newspaper's editorial said: "In its contradictory behaviour towards the senior mission of the Islamic Republic, the Italian government has given permission to the author of the offensive book, 'The Satanic Verses', to enter Italy so that he can receive an honorary doctorate!"

Italy's accusations

Other Iranian media organisations were not so favourable about Italy's attitude towards Iran. Italy's Prime Minister Massimo D'Alema in particular came under attack.

The English-language daily Tehran Times criticised Mr D'Alema for allegedly saying Italy did not believe Iran to be a democracy.

The paper said Mr D'Alema had told students in the US last week that, these considerations notwithstanding, Italy thought dialogue to be the "right approach".

"Such remarks indicate that the Italian PM is influenced by the US administration's rhetoric and propaganda against Iran, charging the Islamic Republic with sponsoring terrorism, pursuing weapons of mass destruction and violating human rights," the paper said in an editorial.

BBC Monitoring (, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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