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Former Iranian President Denounces Bin Laden

Iran's former president, Mohammed Khatami, has denounced Osama bin Laden as a criminal who betrays Islam's message of peace and justice.

Mr. Khatami's sharply critical reference to the leader of the al-Qaida terror network drew applause late Sunday during a speech he delivered at Harvard University in the United States.

However, the Iranian ex-president also praised the Hezbollah militant group as a symbol of Arab resistance to Israel.

Drawing a distinction between resistance and terrorism, Mr. Khatami condemned "the barbarous acts" of terrorism that bin Laden's followers inflicted on the United States five years ago.

Although it is widely acknowledged that Iran is one of the principal supporters of Hezbollah's military operations, the former Iranian leader said his country provides no funding for military operations by the militants.

Hezbollah guerrillas based in southern Lebanon captured two Israeli soldiers in July in a cross-border raid that set off a monthlong conflict with Israel. The war wreaked havoc on Lebanon's civilian population.

About 200 protesters opposed to Mr. Khatami's appearance gathered in Cambridge, Massachusetts near Boston before the speech at Harvard, the final stop in the Iranian cleric's five-city tour of the United States. The demonstrators charged Mr. Khatami was responsibile for repeated human-rights abuses in Iran during his eight years as president, from 1997 to 2005.

The former Iranian president is the most senior Iranian official to visit the United States since 1979, when Islamic radicals stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and seized American diplomats. The two countries have never restored diplomatic relations since the hostage-taking incident, which lasted 444 days.

Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.