- The Washington Times - Monday, December 11, 2006

From combined dispatches

TEHRAN — Iran staged a conference yesterday to debate the Holocaust and question whether Nazi Germany used gas chambers, prompting charges that it was encouraging the denial of the killing of 6 million Jews during World War II.

Meanwhile, Iranian students staged a rare demonstration yesterday against President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, lighting a firecracker and burning his photograph in the audience as he delivered a speech at their university, the state news agency said.

The outspoken leader responded calmly when the students at Amir Kabir Technical University started chanting, “Death to the dictator,” the Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Ahmadinejad supporters in the audience began to chant in response, silencing the protesters. The president then continued his speech. There was no report of the authorities arresting any of the protesters.

At the government-run Review of the Holocaust: Global Vision, guests included Westerners who have cast doubt on the Holocaust — some of them from countries that have made it a crime to deny it happened — as well as a few Jews.

“The aim of this conference is not to deny or confirm the Holocaust,” Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said. “Its main aim is to create an opportunity for thinkers who cannot express their views freely in Europe about the Holocaust.”

The two-day conference at a Foreign Ministry institute was inspired by Mr. Ahmadinejad, who since coming to power in August 2005 has sparked international condemnation by terming the Holocaust a “myth” and calling Israel a “tumor.”

Iran had said 67 scholars from 30 countries would attend.

David Duke, a former Ku Klux Klan leader from the United States, praised Iran. “There must be freedom of speech. It is scandalous that the Holocaust cannot be discussed freely,” he said.

French writer Georges Thiel said the Holocaust was “an enormous lie.”

Israel, the United States and a leader of Iran’s own 25,000-strong Jewish community condemned the conference. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert called it “a sick phenomenon that shows the depth of hatred of the fundamentalist Iranian regime.”

The U.S. State Department last week denounced the gathering as “disgraceful.” Moris Motamed, the sole Jewish representative in Iran’s parliament, described it as a “huge insult.”

Many ordinary Iranians acknowledged embarrassment about the Tehran meeting, particularly after Iran’s competition for cartoons about the Holocaust in October.

At the United Nations in New York yesterday, Russian officials voiced optimism that a new European U.N. draft resolution on Iran’s nuclear ambitions could be adopted soon, perhaps even by Christmas as the West wants.

The U.S.-backed resolution, which Britain and France circulated to the full 15-member council, would impose a travel ban and freeze the assets of institutions and people involved in Iran’s nuclear program and ballistic missile program. The proposals are a reaction to Iran’s failure to comply with an Aug. 31 U.N. deadline to suspend uranium enrichment. They hope for a vote before Christmas.

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