- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 17, 2004

AUVERS-SUR-OISE, France — Thousands of Iranians from across the world streamed into this Paris suburb yesterday to demonstrate against French government leaders, whom they accuse of conspiring with Iran’s terrorist regime in exchange for lucrative trade deals.

Joined by dozens of local and international supporters, the protesters also marked the first anniversary of a huge police raid on the offices of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a France-based political coalition that the State Department classifies as a terrorist organization.

The NCRI’s military arm — the People’s Mojahedin — also is listed as a terror group by the European Union.

The raid on the NCRI last year set off worldwide protests, including highly publicized self-immolations. Many people in France and other European countries have rushed to defend the organization, joining the handful of U.S. congressmen who have been expressing support.

Four months ago, dozens of French politicians, lawyers and human rights activists formed a committee calling for justice for the NCRI.

“We make the distinction between terrorism and resistance,” said committee Chairman Pierre Bercis, who also is the president of New Human Rights. “These fighters are not terrorists. They have committed violent acts only against their own terrorist regime.”

Mr. Bercis said the idea that the NCRI was a terrorist group has been disappearing in the past year as more people show support.

Backers of the NCRI think that its members are legitimate resistance fighters against Iranian terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism. The organization had enjoyed the protection of French authorities.

That changed last year, when the French Interior Ministry sent more than 1,000 police to arrest about 170 Iranian dissidents, including NCRI President Maryam Rajavi.

Before the raid, Paris and Tehran had signed an accord to boost bilateral trade ties. NCRI spokesman Shahin Gobadi said the timing of the two developments was no coincidence.

“The raid was specifically requested by Iranian authorities in exchange for back deals,” Mr. Gobadi said.

Citing multibillion-dollar contracts that have been awarded in recent months to French companies such as Total, Renault, Alcatel and Alsthom, Mr. Gobadi said France has become Iran’s second-largest trading partner in the European Union.

A spokesman at the French Ministry of Foreign Trade acknowledged that trade between the two countries has increased dramatically in the past two years.