World urged to back opposition

The son of the deposed shah of Iran calls on the international community to give support to opposition groups instead of just imposing sanctions.

The son of the deposed shah of Iran yesterday called on the international community to give support to opposition groups instead of just imposing sanctions over the country's nuclear programme. Reza Pahlavi criticised the "hesitancy" and "passivity" of world powers over a political crisis that this week saw the authorities use tear gas and batons against opposition protesters as the country marked 31 years since the Islamic Revolution that toppled Mr Pahlavi's father.

Pleas for outside intervention also came from the Nobel peace prize winner Shirin Ebadi, who warned the country was facing "a tragedy". Speaking to the Associated Press during a visit to Paris, the 50-year-old Mr Pahlavi said western powers should not "even bother" with sanctions unless assistance was also given to Iran's opposition. "External sanctions against the regime do not suffice. You have to bring into your calculation - an element of pressure from within," he said.

"And the only way [to] do that is by strengthening the hand of the people inside the country." To combat government disruption of telephone, text messaging and internet communications, technological help must be provided so the opposition could "stay connected". Outside dialogue with opposition figures was also necessary, he said. He described the current regime as "totalitarian, racist, fascist" but criticised the "bashfulness" of western leaders in their response to the current turmoil.

Mr Pahlavi said civil disobedience could lead to a peaceful transition to a parliamentary democracy where religion and government were separate. "Nothing bars the world from having a line of dialogue with the opposition and that, strangely, has been absent," said Mr Pahlavi, who is based near Washington, DC. Tensions have remained high in Iran since June's disputed presidential election that returned the incumbent, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, to power.

Clashes on Thursday saw attacks on opposition figures including the former president Mohammad Khatami and Zahra Rehnavard, the wife of the main opposition figure, Mir Hossein Mousavi. The same day, Mr Ahmadinejad told hundreds of thousands of flag-waving supporters in Tehran that Iran had produced a batch of high-grade nuclear fuel for the first time. Speaking in Geneva yesterday at an event organised by human rights groups, Ms Ebadi, 62, whose sister was arrested in Iran in late December, warned of dire consequences if the government's hardline response to protests continued. "The time has arrived now for the government to listen to the people," she said.

"Tomorrow will be too late, tomorrow we will face a tragedy in Iran. Please help us - please help us to extinguish this fire in our homes."