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US University Will Host Ahmadinejad Despite Objections


New York's Columbia University says it will go ahead with plans to host a speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, despite protests from local officials and rights groups.

Mr. Ahmadinejad is set to talk at the university Monday while in New York to address the U.N. General Assembly. He also will answer questions from the audience.

New York City Council speaker Christine Quinn says Columbia should withdraw its invitation to the Iranian leader. She accuses him of wanting to spread what she called "his hate mongering vitriol" on a world stage.

Jewish groups also have objected to his planned appearance. Mr. Ahmadinejad has called the Holocaust, in which millions of Jews were killed during the Nazi era, a "myth." He also has said Israel should be "wiped off the map."

Columbia's president says the appearance is part of the university's long-standing tradition of encouraging robust debate.

The White House Friday called Mr. Ahmadinejad's views "abhorrent, if not dangerous." But a spokesman said the United States is a country where people can come and speak their minds. He added that it would be wonderful if some of the countries taking advantage of that privilege in America allowed it for their own citizens at home.

The dispute over the Columbia appearance follows a controversy over the Iranian president's request to lay a wreath at the World Trade Center site for the victims of the September 11th terrorist attacks.

New York police decline the request, citing security concerns. President Bush said Thursday that he understands why police would not want the leader of a country that is, "a state sponsor of terror," visiting the site.

Civic leaders and some relatives of the victims of the attacks objected to Mr. Ahmadinejad's request.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.

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