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Ahwazis join demonstration against Khatami in London

Ahwazis were among the hundreds demonstrating outside Chatham House in London where former Iranian president Mohammad Khatami was lecturing on Iran domestic and foreign policies.

Chatham House is one of the world's leading think tanks for the analysis of international issues. At the meeting, Khatami discussed the use of torture and the recent British debate about the Muslim veil.

Mohammed Khatami presided over an administration that executed hundreds of its opponents, oppressed women and ethnic and religious minorities and crushed student and trade union activism.

Yet, the British establishment is praising this human rights abuser as a "reformist" and awarding him with an honorary doctorate at one of the UK's leading universities. Khatami is neither a reformer nor a democrat, but a murderous tyrant. Numbering five million people, Iran's Ahwazis are just one of many groups that faced violent persecution under Khatami and continue to face state terrorism under his successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Khatami's stated plan, revealed in letters leaked to Al-Jazeera TV last year, was to reduce the Arab population from 70 per cent of the total population of Khuzestan - known to its Ahwazi Arab inhabitants as Al-Ahwaz or Arabistan - to 30 per cent by forcing Ahwazi Arabs out of their homes and enticing people from outside the province with jobs and interest-free loans denied to the indigenous population. Under Khatami, Ahwazi Arabs faced an official policy of discrimination and repression that has led to African levels of poverty - yet their homeland is one of the world's most oil-rich areas and the backbone of the Iranian economy!

Last year while Khatami was still in power, UN Special Rapporteur Miloon Kothari visited the areas devastated by Khatami's violent campaign which made hundreds of thousands of Ahwazi Arabs homeless in their own land. This is what he had to say: "[I]n Khuzestan [...] large development projects, like petrochemical plants, are being built leading to the displacement of entire villages - with thousands of people not consulted on the projects, informed of the impending displacement, nor offered adequate resettlement and compensation [...] the compensation being offered to the Arab villagers who were being displaced is sometimes one fortieth of the market value - and there is nothing they can do about it. It's a fait accompli. And all of these phenomena are continuing. It's something that is happening almost every day."

In April 2005, Ahwazi Arabs staged an unarmed uprising against Khatami's ethnic cleansing programme. The 'reformist' president moved swiftly to crush the intifada, with 25,000 Ahwazis arrested and hundreds more executed, killed unlawfully or 'disappeared'. Entire families have been imprisoned, including children as young as two and four years old.

Pictures of Ahwazis in the anti-Khatami demonstration outside Chatham House: