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Iranian Protests Continue in Europe - 2003-06-19

Protests against French arrests of Iranian opposition members continued for a third day Thursday, with three more demonstrators setting themselves on fire in Italy and Switzerland. Demonstrations also continued in the French Capital.

Two Iranian men set themselves on fire during a protest outside the French embassy in Rome, and another did the same in the Swiss capital of Berne.

Protesters also demonstrated at the Eiffel Tower in Paris against a French crackdown on an Iranian opposition group known as People's Mujahedeen.

The latest acts of self-immolation come despite an appeal by Maryam Rajavi, a top Mujahedeen figure, for her supporters to stop setting themselves ablaze. At least five people set themselves on fire earlier this week, and one remains in life-threatening condition.

Mrs. Rajavi is wife of Massoud Rajavi, the military commander of the armed wing of the Mujahedeen, the Mujahedeen Khalq. Mrs. Rajavi is among some 22 people still being detained in Paris, after a Tuesday morning police sweep of the group's suburban Paris sites. The People's Mujahedeen calls itself a political opposition group, aimed at overthrowing the clerical regime in Iran.

But French and international authorities claim it has terrorist ties, through its relation with the Mujahedeen Khalq movement. Before the Iraq war, the Mujahedeen Khalq was based near Baghdad. But experts fear it may have shifted its operations to France, although the whereabouts of its leader, Massoud Rajavi, are not known.

Late Wednesday, the head of France's counter-espionage service, Pierre de Bousquet de Florian, defended the arrests by claiming the Mujahedeen was plotting attacks against Iranian interests in Europe.

Both the United States and the European Union consider the Mujahedeen Khalq a terrorist organization. But until now, the People's Mujahedeen has been allowed to operate freely in various countries, including France and the United States.