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Iran's hard line plays down Nobel winner

TEHRAN -- Islamic hard-liners accused the Nobel committee yesterday of meddling in Iran's internal affairs by awarding the annual peace prize to a dissident.

Shirin Ebadi was awarded the 2003 prize on Friday for her human rights and democracy activism. She is the first Muslim woman to win the award.

"The prize is a support for secular movements and against the ideals of the 1979 Islamic revolution," said Hamid Reza Taraqi, a former lawmaker and a leading member of the hard-line Islamic Coalition Society.

"The Norwegian Nobel Committee . . . has turned into a political tool in the hand of foreigners to interfere in the internal affairs of our country," Taraqi said.

Yesterday Ebadi and the award were the top story on the front page in the more secular dailies, but Islamist newspapers tended to play down the news.

The hard-line Siyasat-e-Rooz gave priority to an Iron Age cemetery in Spain. Jomhuri-e-Eslami, another hard-line paper, gave the award a small space; the headline read: "Westerners give Ebadi Nobel peace prize."

Figures seeking an easing of Islamic strictures were more gracious, and the administration of more liberal President Mohammad Khatami congratulated Ebadi's win in a statement Friday.

At a news conference Friday in Paris, Ebadi said she believes there is no conflict between rights and the tenets of Islam. "The religious ones should also welcome this award," she said.

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