The Latest: Rouhani faces protest, corporate bosses in Paris

AP News
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Posted: Jan 27, 2016 1:19 PM
The Latest: Rouhani faces protest, corporate bosses in Paris

ROME (AP) — The Latest on Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's visit to Europe (all times local):

7:20 p.m.

Corporate leaders and government ministers — as well as opposition activists — have greeted Iran's Hassan Rouhani's first visit to France as president.

After arriving in Paris on Wednesday from Rome, Rouhani and Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif met with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and Economy Minister Emmanuel Macron.

Rouhani then hosted leaders of France's business community in his Paris hotel soon after arriving Wednesday from Rome.

A few dozen people protested the visit in front of France's Foreign Ministry, some shouting "Rouhani dictator, down down Rouhani." The demonstration was linked to the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, the most vocal and best organized Iranian opposition group, which is based in France and plans a bigger demonstration Thursday.

The group, formerly on the U.S. and EU terror lists, was notably protesting executions in Iran.

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4:25 p.m.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has landed in France for the first such visit by an Iranian leader in 17 years, as part of a European trip meant to usher in a new era after a landmark nuclear deal.

Rouhani arrived Wednesday from Italy, where the Iranian delegation reached billions of euros in business deals. The Italy stop also drew controversy when a Rome museum covered up naked statues in an apparent effort to avoid offending Rouhani.

In France, he will be hosted at the French presidential palace by President Francois Hollande. He will also give a foreign policy speech and meet corporate leaders as French companies eye the resumption of what was once lucrative trade with Iran.

The trip comes after the end of economic sanctions prompted by a deal to curb Iran's nuclear activities.

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1:45 p.m.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is squeezing in a bit of sightseeing during the first official visit by an Iranian leader to Italy since 1999.

Before leaving Rome for Paris, Rouhani got a guided tour of Rome's most iconic monument, the Colosseum. Rouhani and the Iranian delegation spent about a half-hour at the arena, receiving a guided tour by Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini.

While tourists were cleared from the Colosseum complex when U.S. President Barack Obama visited last year, sightseers milled about as usual while Rouhani took his tour. Bodyguards, however, kept them at a distance from the Iranian leader and his delegation.

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1:30 p.m.

Italy's culture minister says the decision to cover up naked Roman statues in an apparent bid to not offend the visiting Iranian president was "incomprehensible."

Culture Minister Dario Franceschini told reporters Wednesday that neither he nor Italian Premier Matteo Renzi authorized the cover-up. Several wooden panels were erected Monday to hide nude statues at Rome's Capitoline Museums where Rouhani and Renzi held a joint press conference.

Franceschini said: "I think there easily would have been other ways to not offend an important foreign guest without this incomprehensible choice of covering up the statues."

Some Italian politicians have denounced the cover-up as "cultural submission."

Rouhani said Wednesday that Iran didn't contact Italian officials about the issue but that he appreciated the welcome he had received.

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1:15 p.m.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius says the visit of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani to France is important for both geopolitical and economic reasons.

In a statement Wednesday with The Associated Press ahead of Rouhani's arrival, Fabius said: "This visit, which we hope is successful, will allow us to address the international situation and regional crises where we hope Iran can play a positive role — notably in Syria and Lebanon — and our bilateral relations, particularly economic."

He said the nuclear accord, which France helped push through, "opened the way to a reinforcement of our relations."

— This version corrects the day of the week to Thursday, and corrects that Fabius comments were made in a statement, not an interview.

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11 a.m.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Iran didn't make any specific requests for Rome museum officials to cover up naked statues but says he nevertheless appreciated the welcome he received.

Rouhani laughed Wednesday when asked at the end of a three-day visit to Italy about the statue cover-up, which made headlines in Italy and around the world. Some Italian politicians decried the "cultural submission" implied in Italy's gesture.

Rouhani said Iran made no specific request for the cover-up, saying there were "no contacts about this" from the Iranian side.

But he added: "I know that Italians are a very hospitable people, a people who try to do the most to put their guests at ease and I thank you for this."

Ahead of a joint news conference Monday with Premier Matteo Renzi, wooden panels were erected around some Roman-era statues in Rome's Capitoline Museums.

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10:45 a.m.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says his first visit to Europe since the nuclear accord was signed has proven that there are "great possibilities" for economic, academic, scientific and cultural cooperation and that "today we are in a win-win situation" after years of mutual losses due to sanctions.

At a press conference Wednesday on his third day in Rome, Rouhani said he hoped that such developments could also take place in the United States, but said the U.S. Congress was getting in the way.

He says, "The key is in Washington, not in Tehran."

After visiting the Colosseum, Rouhani next heads to France.

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10:10 a.m.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says freedom of expression doesn't extend to insulting other people's faith.

Rouhani told reporters Wednesday that he and Pope Francis discussed the issue during their audience at the Vatican on Tuesday.

Francis was once asked about the extremist attacks on the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo. He suggested that a violent reaction could be expected when someone's faith is insulted, saying that anyone who insults his mother can expect to be punched.

Rouhani concurred, saying "freedom of expression doesn't mean that people can do what they want."

He made the comments hours before arriving in Paris on the next leg of his European trip.