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Ahmadinejad accuses 'enemies' of plotting ethnic tensions

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
by Staff Writers
Tehran (AFP) May 25, 2006
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday accused Iran's foreign "enemies" of trying to provoke ethnic tensions inside the Islamic republic as a way of fighting its nuclear programme.

"With our achievement of peaceful nuclear technology, the world equation has changed and our country has become an influential power," Ahmadinejad said in comments carried on state television.

The hardline president said it was "natural that our enemies" -- a term usually applied to the United States and Israel -- conspire against the regime.

But he asserted that "throughout history, Iranians have acted as a large family... and the enemies have never been able to succeed in their plots."

"Today the Iranian people, with full awareness, will destroy the enemy plots aimed at spreading differences among them. They will stride towards progress with unity," he asserted.

Ahmadinejad's comments came after ethnic Azeri rioting in the northwestern city of Tabriz, apparently provoked by a cartoon in a government newspaper that depicted an Azeri as a cockroach. The judiciary has shut the paper and arrested the artist and editor responsible.

Ethnic Azeris, concentrated in northwestern Iran, account for some 25 percent of the population.

Iran has also seen an increase in ethnic tensions among its ethnic Arab, Kurdish and Baluch minorities over the past year -- with regime officials pointing the finger at a US, British and Israeli plot to destabilise the country.

The Islamic republic is under pressure to halt its nuclear energy drive, seen in the West as a mask for weapons development.

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