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Iran exiled opposition furious after Paris police block rally

The MEK regards itself as the most significant Iranian opposition group outside the country
— Paris (AFP)

A major exiled Iranian opposition group on Tuesday expressed fury after Paris police refused to grant permission for a major rally next month, on the grounds it risked creating tensions and being the target of an attack.

The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), a coalition that includes the People's Mujahedin (MEK) group outlawed by Tehran, alleged that the de facto ban on the rally was the result "pressure" on France by the Iranian government.

The NCRI, which calls for the overthrow of Iran's clerical leadership, had asked permission for the rally in Paris on July 1, with tens of thousands of supporters expected from France and across Europe.

Paris police did not grant approval for the rally as it is "likely to generate disturbances to public order because of the geopolitical context", a Paris police source, asking not to be named, told AFP.

"In addition, the terrorist risk should not be overlooked and the holding of such an event would make ensuring its security, but also the security of the sensitive guests, extremely complex," the source said.

Authorities in 2018 foiled an attack against a major NCRI rally outside Paris. An Iranian diplomat was convicted of terror offences by a Belgian court over the thwarted attack, but was last month swapped for a Belgian aid worker held by Tehran.

The NCRI claimed that Paris was giving into pressure from Tehran as France was concerned over the fate of four French nationals held by Iran in what activists call a deliberate strategy of hostage-taking.

"The banning of the Iranian rally represents a disgraceful act against democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and succumbing to extortion and hostage-taking by the religious dictatorship ruling Iran," the NCRI said.

It added that it would "employ all legal and political avenues to challenge and file a complaint against this unjustifiable prohibition", denouncing the "regime's pressure on France".

The group had been hoping in the rally to use the momentum created by protests against the clerical leadership inside Iran that erupted in September after the death of Mahsa Amini, who had been arrested for allegedly violating the strict dress rules for women.

The protests inside Iran have abated but still continue sporadically.

The MEK regards itself as the most significant Iranian opposition group outside the country.

A controversial organisation regarded as a cult by detractors, it is far from having universal support among the Iranian diaspora. But it does enjoy the support of several high-profile former US and European officials such as the former US vice president Mike Pence.