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Exiled Iran opposition group holds big Paris rally

PARIS (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of supporters of an exiled Iranian opposition group rallied outside Paris on Saturday to denounce the government in Tehran and last week’s disputed presidential election.

Scores of chartered coaches brought supporters of the French-based National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) from countries including Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands to an organized event at an exhibition center near Paris.

Supporters chanted slogans and waved yellow flags and banners reading “In support of the Iranian people.” They gave an ecstatic greeting to the movement’s leader Maryam Rajavi.

“The sacred rage that has exploded in the streets across Iran is different from all the previous demonstrations, protests and uprisings,” Rajavi told the crowd, according to a translation of her speech.

“The religious dictatorship and all of its repressive institutions must be dismantled,” she said.

Organizers said 90,000 people had traveled to the Villepinte area to support the movement in more than 1,000 coaches and minivans. Supporters at the rally itself filled one hall at the vast Villepinte exhibition center near Paris.

Expatriate groups have held a series of smaller rallies this week and in Brussels on Saturday about 300 protestors gathered in a peaceful demonstration outside the Iranian embassy.

Saturday’s rally came as riot police in Iran used teargas and water cannon to disperse demonstrators protesting the election result which saw sitting President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad returned to office amid widespread claims of voting fraud.

The NCRI has thousands of followers in Europe and the United States and was the first group to expose Iran’s covert nuclear program in 2002.

It claims to have huge backing within Iran although western analysts say its support is hard to gauge and is limited because of its collaboration with Iraq during the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

The main faction within the NCRI opposition umbrella movement is the People’s Mujahideen Organization of Iran (PMOI), based in Iraq, which European states agreed this year to remove it from a list of banned terrorist groups.