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Europe

Iran Sends Blair Invitation to Holocaust Conference

Iran on Sunday invited British Prime Minister Tony Blair to Tehran to participate in a planned conference on the Holocaust, which President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has branded a "myth."

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Iranian President Ahmadinejad doubts the Holocaust took place

"It would be good for Mr. Blair to participate in the Holocaust seminar in Tehran," the Islamic republic's foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters on Sunday.

"He can also contribute with an article. If he wants to defend the Holocaust (the fact that it happened) in that article, he can do so. We will give him the time to read out his article so others can hear his point of view," Asefi said.

The conference, news of which has alarmed many in Europe, is slated to take place in the coming spring, Asefi said.

An exercise in free speech?

Leaders in Germany and Britain have sharply criticized the announcement of the conference and plans to invite notorious Holocaust deniers as a further example of Iran's dangerous strategy of provocation and anti-Semitism.

Iran has presented the conference as an exercise in free speech, where Asefi said Blair "can say the kind of things he cannot say in London."

"For half a century, the defenders of the Holocaust have used every tribune to defend their position, and now they have to listed to others," the foreign ministry spokesman said.

Will Blair attend?

A British embassy spokesman in Tehran declined to speculate on whether or not Blair would attend the conference, but promised that "if we get a formal invitation, obviously we'll pass it on to Number 10 (Downing Street, where the prime minister resides)."

Iran Präsident

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahamdinejad

Earlier in the month, Blair lashed out at the planned meeting as "shocking, ridiculous, and stupid." He said Ahmadinejad, who publicly doubted 6 million Jews had been killed in World War II, "should come and see the evidence of the Holocaust himself in the countries of Europe."

Asefi replied by saying one would have to see when the president of Iran has time for a close up tour of those places. Iran's foreign minister has already said he was willing to send a team of "independent investigators" to visit former Nazi death camps across Europe.

Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the teams would be comprised of people "who are not sympathetic to those who committed the crimes and who are not sympathetic to the Zionist regime (Israel)."

International condemnation

Holocaust Gedenktag Auschwitz

Concentration Camp Auschwitz in Januar 1945.

Ahmadinejad, an ultra-conservative who came to power in a shock victory last June, has provoked international condemnation with a string of anti-Israeli remarks and by embracing the cause of Holocaust revisionists. His comments include labelling Israel a "tumor" that should be "wiped off the map." He has also claimed that the Holocaust was a Western invention used to justify the creation of the Jewish state.

The UN Security Council has condemned Ahmadinejad's blatantly anti-Semitic statements and UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has cancelled a planned visit to Tehran in November.

In Germany, where Holocaust denial is a crime, Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly admonished Ahmadinejad. She will be discussing the subject with regional leaders during her first trip to the Middle East as German chancellor on Jan. 30.

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