Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said he is standing by his controversial call for Israel to be "wiped off the map." The comment has drawn heavy criticism from around the world, including from some of Iran's European allies. A massive anti-Israel demonstration in Tehran backed the president's remarks.
Tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of Tehran before Friday prayers, chanting things like "Death to Israel" and "Death to America." Protesters carried banners supporting their new president, who has come under widespread criticism after saying at a conference Wednesday that Israel should be "wiped off the map."
The official Iranian news agency reports that he dismissed the international condemnation, saying Western nations "are free to talk, but their words have no validity."
The anti-Israel protest is an annual event known as Al-Quds Day, or Jerusalem Day. The yearly parades on the last Friday of Ramadan are attended by hundreds of thousands of people around the country, who mark the day by chanting anti-Israeli slogans and burning the Israeli and American flags.
Amid the international uproar, this year's rally was attended by most of Iran's top government officials. Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki backed his president's remarks, saying this does not represent a hardening Iran's policy regarding Israel.
"Unfortunately, the Western countries have remained silent on the increasing inhuman activities of Israel," he said. "They have not done anything to implement resolutions of the United Nations and Security Council against the nuclear activities of the Zionist regime, the separation wall and other criminal activies of Israel."
Israel, meanwhile, is calling for an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council to discuss the comments.
In contrast, the Iranian embassy in Moscow sought to soften Mr. Ahmadinejad's words, saying in a statement that he "did not have any intention to speak up in such sharp terms and enter into a conflict."
Iran has dismissed the international backlash as a means of pressing Iran to compromise on its nuclear program. Negotiations have stalled between the EU and Iran over attempts to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. In three weeks, Iranian diplomats head to Vienna to try to win support for their country at the next meeting with the International Atomic Energy Agency, IAEA.