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Iranians set themselves on fire to protest raid

PARIS — PARIS - Several Iranians set themselves on fire yesterday to protest a sweeping crackdown by France against a long-established armed organization whose goal is the overthrow of Iran's Islamic Republic.

A police report said that one of the protesters, Marzieh Babakhani, a woman described as a political refugee in her 40s, had died. But it was later reported that she was in critical condition in a hospital after setting her clothes on fire near the French counterintelligence services headquarters near the Eiffel Tower, the police said.

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The other protesters - a second woman and a man in Paris, and a 38-year-old man who set himself ablaze in London on Tuesday - were hospitalized. A fifth person, a man, doused himself with a flammable liquid and tried unsuccessfully to set himself on fire yesterday outside the French Embassy in Bern, Switzerland.

On Tuesday, 1,300 French police officers arrested more than 150 people during antiterrorist raids against the Mujahedeen Khalq, as the group is known, inspiring protests, including attempted immolations, by their supporters.

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The police initially said they had seized $1.3 million in $100 bills, but said yesterday that they had found several suitcases containing $6 million to $8 million in $100 bills. They also seized about 200 satellite dishes and about 100 computers in the raid on 13 sites.

Among those arrested was Maryam Rajavi, considered by the group as "the first lady of Iran." She is the wife of the Mujahedeen Khalq leader Massoud Rajavi, who was expelled from France in 1986 and set up a headquarters in Iraq.

Officials of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, the political front for the Mujahedeen Khalq, or People's Mujahedeen, as the group is also known, said yesterday that its members and supporters would continue to set themselves on fire until Maryam Rajavi was released.

Under France's powerful antiterrorist laws, those detained can be held without specific charges for a maximum of four days, after which they must be released or notified of the charges on which they are being held and placed under formal investigation.

By yesterday morning, the police released all but about a score of those detained in the raids on homes and offices of the organization.

Iran has long demanded that Western governments withdraw their support for the organization and arrest its members.

In Iran yesterday, President Mohammad Khatami demanded that France extradite to Tehran members of the group detained by the police on Tuesday and told the United States to follow France's lead and arrest thousands of Mujahedeen fighters and supporters in Iraq.

"Given that the Islamic republic has been a victim of the actions of these people, its natural demand is that they should be tried where they committed their crimes, or at least where they committed most of their crimes," Khatami told reporters.


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