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Thousands of demonstrators rally outside Paris to back Iranian exile group

By Audrey Horowitz, Winnipeg Free Press
June 20, 2009

VILLEPINTE, France - Thousands of people gathered north of Paris on Saturday to support Iranian opposition protesters and an Iranian exile group pushing to be rid of a terrorist label.

Crowds spilled out of buses and filled the fairground in Villepinte under drizzly skies. Organizers said 1,000 buses were hired to bring protesters from around France and Europe, including legislators from several countries.

The rally was organized by the National Council of Resistance of Iran. Organizers said 90,000 people turned out. Police estimates were not immediately available.

The France-based umbrella group includes the People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran, which was recently removed from the European Union's list of banned terrorist groups. The group, also known as the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, is trying to persuade the U.S. to stop classifying it as a terrorist group, as well.

The leader of the National Council, Maryam Rajavi, spoke Saturday to huge cheers, hailing the importance of resisting Iran's leadership.

The people in the crowd "want an end to the clerical dictatorship in Iran and they want a secular democracy which is represented by Mrs. Maryam Rajavi," said Alireza Jafarzadeh, one of the organizers of the French rally.

The group organizes rallies in France every year.

The demonstrators in France are not supporters of opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi but are expressing solidarity with Iranian opposition protesters, who have rallied in Tehran for several days to demand a new presidential election. Iran's rulers are facing their greatest internal challenge since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran participated in Iran's Islamic Revolution. But it soon fell out with the clerics in charge of the country, and launched a campaign of assassinations and bombings in an attempt to topple the government.

The group's supporters argue it no longer engages in armed struggle in its quest for a new leadership in Iran, and they have won several court cases in Europe in recent years.

In Hamburg, Germany, some 4,000 people marched through the city to protest Iran's election result. Police said most were of Iranian origin and the event passed peacefully.

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