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Flames in France

Paris, June 18 (Reuters): One Iranian exile died and two others were badly burned after setting themselves ablaze today during a day-long protest against France’s mass round-up of dissidents opposed to Islamic rule in Tehran.

Marzieh Babakhani, aged about 40, died in hospital after setting fire to her clothes early today at a protest of about 100 exiles outside France’s DST counter-intelligence agency near the Eiffel Tower, the Paris prosecutor’s office said.

Segigheh Mojaveri, 38, set herself ablaze at the same protest at midday and Mohammad Vakilifar, about 45, did the same late in the afternoon, witnesses said. Both were rushed to hospital with serious burns.

Exiles had earlier identified Vakilifar by his nickname Sani. He was a political exile living in Germany, said officials of the National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI), whose military arm was the target of yesterday’s raid. The two women were living as refugees in France.

In Berne, Swiss police stopped an Iranian from lighting his clothes after dousing himself with a flammable liquid. The NCRI said protesters would stay outside the DST headquarters until the release of their leader, Maryam Rajavi. The DST ran the raid that rounded up 159 exiles.

”We're going to stay here until Rajavi is freed,” said the NCRI official, who asked not to be named.

By Wednesday morning, police had released all but 26 of those detained in Tuesday's raids on homes and offices of the NCRI, a left-wing group that opposes religious rule in Iran.

The raids also netted several suitcases of $100 bills worth at least $8 million as well as a large amount of communications equipment, police said.

Judiciary sources said Rajavi and others still detained could face terrorism charges for allegedly planning attacks in Iran from their suburban Paris headquarters.

Rajavi is the wife of Massoud Rajavi, leading figure in the NCRI military arm, the People's Mujahideen, which the European Union and United States say is a terrorist organisation.

In Tehran, Iranian President Mohammad Khatami indicated he wanted the detainees extradited to Iran, saying:“Because Iran has been their victim...our natural request is that they be prosecuted in the place where they have committed their crimes.”

NCRI officials said the Paris detainees had begun a hunger strike and that the self-immolations were spontaneous acts of protest. An Iranian set himself alight in London on Tuesday.

An NCRI official at the protest said Babakhani had two brothers who were killed by Iranian authorities.

AIMED AT MUJAHIDEEN

The People's Mujahideen is based in Iraq and was recently disarmed by U.S. forces there.

As a force opposed to the Islamic state, the Mujahideen also have women in uniform who in the past have shown journalists visiting their Iraq base how well they can fire Kalashnikov rifles and drive armoured cars.

Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy has accused the Mujahideen of seeking a“rear base” in France after being disarmed in Iraq.

Police said the detainees were rounded up on suspicion of planning terrorist attacks in a raid ordered by leading anti-terrorist investigating judge Jean-Louis Bruguiere.

The NCRI said the arrests would spark anger in Iran, but diplomats in Tehran said the group was unpopular there even among those opposed to Iran's Islamic clerical establishment.

In an unusual convergence of views, both Washington and Tehran Ä who have not had diplomatic relations since the 1979 Islamic revolution Ä praised the round-up.

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