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Iran's Vociferous 2 Percent

Iran's president made another splash this year on his annual visit to New York City for the UN General Assembly and the U.S. talk-show circuit.

Generalizations are big with Ahmadinejad. Last year, you'll recall, he told a Columbia University audience that his country has no homosexuals. This time, he casually asserted that 98 percent of Iranians support that country's Islamic system.

That's when Radio Farda's phone started ringing. And ringing. There were text messages and e-mails, too.

Iranians spoke out to challenge the popularity of the Islamic establishment that was created nearly three decades ago. One called it the "great lie," and others said it should be put to a public referendum, if the political and religious establishment is so confident.

Here was Reza from Tehran: "For three decades, there has been no referendum. How can Mr. Ahmadinejad say that 98 percent of the public supports the Islamic Republic?"

A caller from Mashhad: "Why don't you give Iranians the permission to hold another referendum? Of course this should be done in the presence of international observers."

And another caller: "What Ahmadinejad meant when he said 98 percent of Iran's people support the Islamic Republic is that [98 percent of the] 5 percent of Iran's population who support him support the Islamic Republic, not [98 percent] of Iran's population of 70 million."

Another used his sense of humor to challenge the Iranian president: "Mr. Ahmadinejad, in order to prove to the 'Great Satan' that 98 percent of the people support your regime, you should hold an insignificant referendum."

There was a minority of people who sent messages to Farda agreeing with Ahmadinejad, however.

One said the Iranian president definitely has the support of "99 percent of Iranians." "He has many supporters," the person said via e-mail.

Ahmadinejad also came under criticism for saying that Iranians enjoy freedom and justice and that there are no people in Iran living below the poverty line "to the extremes that you find in the U.S."

This is how a listener from Ardebil reacted: "Last year, he said we don't have homosexuals in Iran; now he says we don't have poor people. So how can you explain the things we see in Iran?!"

Another, from Neyshabour, left a phone message: "As an ordinary citizen, I was really upset by Ahmadinejad's comments at the UN. He made claims about justice and law and the free will of the Iranian people to decide about their fate. But as a citizen, I don't have the right criticize the government's policies in Iran's state media. I live under the worst conditions, because justice and law are only a dream."

Ahmadinejad's UN speech and his many references to God and morality prompted some listeners to wonder whether the Iranian president had mistaken the UN with a mosque.

During his UN speech, Ahmadinejad accused "deceitful Zionists" of manipulating Americans and Europeans. Ahmadinejad has also lashed out recently at Israel, saying "the Zionist regime is on a definite decline toward collapse."

Some listeners distanced themselves from the anti-Israeli comments by the Iranian president in messages to Radio Farda.

"I'm an Iranian," said one from Hormozgan, "and on behalf of a number of Iranians I'd like to apologize to the people of Israel for the comments by Iran's president at the "United Nations."

Another put a question to the Iranian president: "I want to ask Mr. Ahamdinejad: Who said at the UN that there should be a free referendum in the Palestinian territories? Why don't you hold free elections, a free referendum, for your own people?"

-- Golnaz Esfandiari

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Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at

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