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Exiled Dissidents Rally In Paris For Democratic Change In Iran

Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad
Tens of thousands of Iranian exiles rallied in Paris on June 23 to demand democratic change in Iran and to call for aid to Iranian resistance members at refugee camps in Iraq.

The Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran organized the event at a convention center in a northern Paris suburb.

The council, which has been blacklisted by the United States as a terrorist organization, estimated turnout at nearly 100,000 people. More than 1,000 buses arrived at the rally -- drawing Iranians from across Europe.

Maryam Rajavi, an exiled Iranian dissident who heads the Paris-based group, was cheered and applauded as she entered the rally.

Earlier, Rajavi said major powers had to abandon what she described as a decades-old policy of "appeasement" toward Tehran.

Rajavi said that after the latest round of international talks over Iran's disputed nuclear program ended in deadlock, Western countries should instead start to support Iranian opposition groups.

"The greatest societies, far-reaching imaginations can provoke entire movements and take them further," Rajavi told the cheering crowd. "It breaks down the heavy walls of impossibilities. And it has the effect of taking it forward until the point of victory."

Rajavi also accused Washington of moving too slowly on a decision to remove her group from the U.S. list of terrorist organizations.

Despite that terrorist designation, the council has won support from several former U.S. officials, who attended the rally. Among those guests was former U.S. Senator Robert Torricelli, a New Jersey Democrat, who was part of a 2011 Executive Action Conference in Washington that called on U.S. President Barack Obama to stand with Iranians who are calling for democratic change in Iran.

Torricelli was joined by former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani. Giuliani said progress can only be made by changing the regime of Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and the conservative Islamist clerics who rule the country.

"This regime is going to do everything they can to hide, to lie, to deceive and to try to move forward with the nuclear program while fooling all of us," Giuliani said. "That would be very dangerous for the region. It will be very dangerous for the rest of the world. The only real answer for world peace is a new regime in Iran -- with the mullahs gone and with people like this, not just them, but people like this being able to exercise their rights in Iran."

Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell also attended the rally, calling for aid to be sent to members of an Iranian opposition movement who are living in miserable conditions at refugee camps in Iraq.

Also among the guests was the Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, who spent six years as the hostage of Marxist guerrillas before being rescued from a secret rebel jungle camp in 2008.

With reporting by Reuters, AFP, and AP
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