Iran Team Face Mass Potest
Luke Harding and Denis Campbell, The Observer:
Iran's Football team will be met with a series of protests across Germany during their World Cup campaign as anger mounts against the country's viciously anti-semitic President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Senior politicians, Jewish groups and a prominent German TV host will join a demonstration today in Nuremberg hours before Iran play their opening match of the tournament against Mexico in the city. They are furious that Ahmadinejad's deputy, Mohammad Aliabadi, has been allowed into the country after the Iranian President called the Holocaust 'a fairytale' and called for the destruction of Israel. READ MORE
'Aliabadi has not distanced himself in any way from the statements that his President has made,' said Sacha Stawski of pro-Israel group Honestly Concerned, who are helping to organise today's rally. 'It's highly unlikely he thinks any differently. Until he distances himself from the regime we will protest against him.'
Aliabadi went to Friday's opening ceremony and first game in Munich and is due to watch his countrymen in their opening fixture in Group D in Nuremberg at 5pm.
A cross-party group of German politicians is due to speak at the protest, including Gunter Beckstein, Bavaria's right-wing Interior Minister, and Claudia Roth, the co-leader of Germany's Green Party. The country's most famous Jewish TV personality, Michel Friedman, will also attend. He has threatened to take legal action against Ahmadinejad if he comes to Germany, where Holocaust denial is a criminal offence.
Hundreds of Jewish people are expected at today's event, with busloads arriving from Berlin, Munich and other cities. Jewish leaders are comparing the presence of the Iran team and Aliabadi at the World Cup with the Berlin Olympics before the Second World War, when Adolf Hitler sought to use the Games to promote Aryan supremacy and his own leadership.
'Aliabadi's presence means we could have a repeat of the 1936 Olympics, when they were hijacked by Hitler for his own political purposes and presentation,' said Rene Pollak, chairman of the Zionist Federation of Frankfurt. 'We should have denied him entry to the country. Western leaders should know by now that appeasing fascist regimes does not work.'
Opponents of the Tehran regime will also protest before Iran's matches in Frankfurt against Portugal on Saturday and Angola in Leipzig four days later.
The demonstrations were arranged after German neo-Nazis said they intended to stage pro-Ahmadinejad welcoming parties in the three cities to show solidarity with Tehran because of its outspoken attacks on Jews and Israel. However, many of the events have been banned by the police or the courts. In addition, the NPD, Germany's main far-right party, has also called off several rallies, after deciding not to risk tarnishing Germany's image during the World Cup.
On Friday police raided the NPD's Berlin offices and confiscated 3,000 'racist' World Cup guides, which target black players in Germany's squad and warn of 'foreign infiltration'.
Ahmadinejad, who is a keen football fan, may yet come to Germany if Iran confound predictions and reach the tournament's knockout stages. The team's coach, Branko Ivankovic, has invited further controversy by saying that his players would be 'honoured' to meet Ahmadinejad if he attends one of their games. 'This is nothing out of the ordinary. It would be like Jacques Chirac coming to watch France,' he said.
If Ahmadinejad does come, it will pose problems for German Chancellor Angela Merkel and her government. As Iran's head of state, he would have to be treated as a VIP, but his presence would spark protests on a scale far larger than those already planned.
Charlotte Knobloch, the new president of Germany's Central Jewish Council, said that, if Ahmadinejad came and repeated his remarks about the Holocaust, he should not be given any diplomatic immunity but instead be arrested.