- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 4, 2002

IRAN

Iranian students to rally despite ban

TEHRAN An Iranian student group announced yesterday plans to hold a rally against "despotism and outdated concepts of religion" this weekend in defiance of a government ban on protests.

Demonstrations were forbidden late last month after student activists held two weeks of protests over the sentencing to death of university lecturer and disabled military veteran Hashem Aghajari. But the Islamic Association of Students at Tehran universities said it would go ahead with a Dec. 7 rally to mark National Student Day, which marks the bloody 1953 repression of student protests against a visit by U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon during the late shah's reign.

The Aghajari verdict, to be revised following an order from supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, ignited the largest such demonstrations in the Islamic republic since July 1999. Hard-line vigilantes, notably the Basij militia, have threatened to crush any further student protests.


SYRIA

Assads invited to visit London

LONDON President Bashar Assad will make the first visit by a Syrian leader to Britain in a Dec. 16-18 trip during which he will hold talks with Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr. Blair's office announced yesterday.

Newspapers report that Mr. Blair is expected to seek Syrian support for a potential attack on Iraq. Mr. Assad will also be received by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II. Mr. Assad was trained as an eye surgeon in London, where his wife, Asma Akhras, grew up.

Syria, currently a member of the Security Council, backed the new United Nations resolution on Iraq, but Damascus opposes a U.S.-led attack against President Saddam Hussein, fearing it would further destabilize the Middle East.


Weekly notes


Morocco's King Mohammed VI and French President Jacques Chirac discussed the development of a "special strategic partnership" between their two countries at talks in Casablanca Monday. The two leaders reportedly discussed how to deepen relations between Morocco and France "to serve the societies and economies of both countries," and also focused on cooperation between Morocco and the European Union. Former Saudi intelligence chief Prince Turki al-Faisal, who has acknowledged meeting Osama bin Laden several times before 1994, has been nominated to become the kingdom's ambassador to London, according to a Saudi source. The prince left the job of intelligence chief in August 2001. He told Saudi TV last year that he met bin Laden several times in the kingdom and in Pakistan before 1994. He said al Qaeda was founded initially to "defend Muslims in the world against injustice," but "at the end of the jihad [against Soviet forces] in Afghanistan, the organization no longer had any precise objectives."

From wire reports and staff dispatches

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