Saturday, May 27, 2006

Supreme Leader: U.S. Will Fail to Spark Unrest

Nasser Karimi, Yahoo News:
Iran's supreme leader said Sunday the United States would fail to provoke ethnic strife in the Islamic republic after several days of protests over a cartoon that insulted the country's largest minority. Ayatollah Ali Khamenei also said in a speech broadcast by state-run television that "trying to provoke ethnic and religious unrest is the last desperate shot by enemies." READ MORE

He referred to a Bush administration request to Congress for $75 million to promote democracy in Iran, saying: "Enemies of the Iranian nation have earlier announced that they have allocated some money for this purpose."

Earlier, hundreds of Azeris demonstrated in front of the Iranian parliament to protest the cartoon, which was published by a state-owned newspaper two weeks ago.

"Coward legislators, support the Azeris!" chanted the protesters, who urged parliament to punish those who published the cartoon and release people detained in previous protests over the issue.

On Wednesday, the government closed the newspaper and detained its chief editor and cartoonist for publishing the drawing, which showed a cockroach speaking Azeri.

Azeris, a Turkic ethnic group, are Iran's largest minority, making up about a quarter of Iran's 70 million people, dominated by ethnic Persians. Azeris speak a Turkic language shared by their brethren in neighboring Azerbaijan.

Khamenei paid tribute to the role of Azeris in the 1979 revolution that brought Islamic clerics to power. He said Iran's Azeri region was "was the axis of the (1979) revolution" and that trying to provoke unrest there showed "the folly of the enemies."

Following Azeri protests in the northwestern city of Tabriz and other towns, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week accused the United States of seeking to provoke ethnic tensions in Iran.