Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Don't let Iran exploit World Cup, ex-players say - Reuters

BERLIN (Reuters) - Three former Iranian national soccer players said on Wednesday Iran may try to exploit the World Cup to spread misinformation about exiled groups opposed to the Tehran government.

The players, who represented their country in the 1970s, are members of an exiled opposition organisation. They criticised Berlin for signing a security accord with Iran which they said would restrict peaceful demonstrations during the tournament.

"Don't let the Iranian regime misuse the World Cup in the same way that Hitler did with the Olympic Games in 1936," Hassan Nayeb-Agha, who played for Iran at the 1978 World Cup in Argentina, told a news conference in Berlin.

He was referring to the Olympics which the Nazis tried to use to showcase their ideals.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry rejected the group's criticism and said the security agreement Germany had signed with Iran provided for an information exchange about possible acts of violence and terror.

"There's no need for any concern that information about exiled Iranians who have not done anything to endanger internal security will be passed on," the spokesman said. "That will not happen and is not part of the agreement."

There have been calls in Germany to ban Iran from taking part in the World Cup, which begins on June 9, after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad labelled the Holocaust a myth and said Israel should be "wiped off the map".

Chancellor Angela Merkel said the remarks were unacceptable and has likened Iran's nuclear plans to the threat posed by the Nazis in their early days. But she opposed banning the team.

Iran's opening match against Mexico on June 11 is in Nuremberg, a city associated with Nazism. A far-right group, which says it admires Tehran's defiant stance against the West over its nuclear programme, plans to show its support for Iran when they play Angola in Leipzig on June 21.

The head of Iran's soccer federation had said Ahmadinejad was considering coming to Germany for the World Cup but a government official in Tehran later said he had no such plans.

Interior Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble said recently Ahmadinejad would be welcome in Germany but would be taken to task for his anti-Israel comments and Holocaust denial.

Denying the murder of six million Jews by the Nazis is a crime in Germany punishable with up to five years in prison.

Bahram Mavadat, a reserve goalkeeper for Iran at the 1978 World Cup, said on Wednesday it was still possible the Iranian president would attend the tournament.

"We are planning demonstrations in several German cities if the president comes," he said.

Original Article

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