Police Detain 208 Protestors
By JOCELYN GECKER
.c The Associated Press
PARIS (AP) - Two men set themselves on fire outside the French Embassy in London on Friday, bringing to nine the number of people who have set themselves ablaze to protest France's crackdown on an Iranian opposition group.
French police said they have detained 208 people for violating the country's new ban on protests by supporters of the Mujahedeen Khalq. All but 18 had been released.
The government said the ban, imposed Wednesday, is an effort to stop people from setting themselves on fire. But the measure failed to prevent Mujahedeen Khalq supporters from demonstrating Friday outside Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral.
Police quickly broke up the demonstration, questioning 75 participants on the spot before setting them free.
In London, two Mujahedeen supporters set themselves on fire in separate protests outside the French Embassy. One man was hospitalized in serious condition. The other's condition was not immediately available.
There have been four such incidents in London this week. Three other attempts at self-immolation by Mujahedeen Khalq supporters have occurred in Paris, Rome and Bern, Switzerland.
Activists are protesting a French police operation on Tuesday that rounded up 165 members of the Iranian opposition group, which has been accused of terrorism by the United States and the European Union.
A Washington-based spokesman for the group accused France of seeking favor with Iran.
``It won't gain them anything with the mullahs. It only brings them shame and dishonor worldwide,'' said Alireza Jafarzadeh of the National Council of Resistance of Iran.
Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., was among a handful in the U.S. Congress who issued or letters statements in support of the Iranian opposition late this week.
``When America was struggling for its independence, it was France who was coming to her aid. I urge you not to turn your back on your country's own rich tradition of supporting freedom by doing the dirty work of the Islamic Republican of Iran,'' Brownback wrote in a letter, dated Friday, to Jean-David Levitte, the French ambassador to the United States.
The French government said the Tuesday raids were needed to stop the group, fiercely opposed to the Muslim clerical government in Iran, from carrying out attacks on Iranian diplomatic missions in Europe and elsewhere. The group has denied the allegations.
In addition to demonstrators, police were separately holding 22 members of the group from the Tuesday raid. One of the group's co-founders, Maryam Rajavi, was among those still in custody.
Rajavi issued a statement from detention on Thursday urging supporters not to resort to suicide but to continue peaceful protests.
In a statement on Friday, French police said that the 208 demonstrators had been rounded up at protests Wednesday and Thursday.
Among them were nine women with ``suicidal intentions,'' who were under medical supervision, police said. Two of those in jail were filmed buying gasoline at a service station and handing it to a woman who set herself ablaze Wednesday in Paris. She died the following day. The woman, whose identity was not known, was the only fatality among the attempted self-immolations.
Nine others still in custody were residents of various European countries - Germany, Sweden and Italy - and were being expelled to those countries, police said.
In Tuesday's dramatic raids, some 1,300 French agents swarmed into the longtime headquarters of the Mujahedeen, which has been based in France since falling out with the Iranian government shortly after the 1979 Islamic revolution.