Fri, Dec 26, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Iranian president’s Christmas message causes furor in UK

AP , LONDON

Iran’s president is offering season’s greetings to Christians in a British TV address and suggests that if Jesus were alive, he would oppose “bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers” — an apparent reference to the US and its allies.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Christmas Day broadcast will be delivered on Britain’s Channel 4 television, occupying a slot that provides an often controversial counterpoint to Queen Elizabeth II’s traditional annual message, the station said on Wednesday. A leading British Jewish body said it was appalled.

In a transcript released in advance, Ahmadinejad says most of the world’s problems stem from leaders who have turned against religion. The Muslim president doesn’t refer to rival nations or leaders by name or mention Israel, despite his past calls to wipe it out.

“If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly he would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over,” Ahmadinejad said, the English translation of the Farsi-language speech said.

The broadcast will air with subtitles.

The US, Britain and others suspect Iran of developing nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists its uranium enrichment program is intended solely for a civilian energy program.

Ties with Britain were further strained last year when Iran held 15 British sailors and marines prisoner for 13 days.

The Board of Deputies of British Jews — which represents the Jewish community in the UK — said the broadcast was offensive.

“To invite him to deliver a Christmas message, even a so-called alternative one, fills me with disgust,” said the group’s president, Henry Grunwald.

The Israeli ambassador to London condemned the speech as a “bogus message of good will.”

“That [Channel 4] should give an unchallenged platform to the president of a regime which denies the Holocaust, advocates the destruction of the sovereign state of Israel, funds and encourages terrorism, executes children and hangs gay people is a disgrace,” Ron Prosor said. “Outrage doesn’t begin to explain it.”

Previous guests of Channel 4’s Christmas slot have included the Reverend Jesse Jackson and the animated TV character Marge Simpson of The Simpsons.

Dorothy Byrne, Channel 4’s head of news and current affairs, said Ahmadinejad was picked because Iran’s relations with the West would likely remain a big global issue next year.

“As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad’s views are enormously influential. As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view,” Byrne said.

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