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Egypt's Morsi assumes major role in Mideast

By Steven R. Hurst

Associated Press

Published: Wednesday, Sept. 26 2012 4:45 p.m. MDT

"How can he talk about freedom of expression when there are many protesters in detention in Egypt, including minors, and when people are locked up for the so-called contempt of religion?" she said.

The head of the Arab League, meanwhile, called for the international community to criminalize blasphemy, warning that insults to religion pose a serious threat to global peace and security.

Nabil Elaraby's comments to a special session of the U.N. Security Council put him at direct odds with the United States and its Western allies, which are resolutely opposed to restrictions on freedom of expression. However, Elaraby said that if the West has criminalized acts that result in bodily harm, it must also criminalize acts that cause "psychological and spiritual harm."

Earlier Wednesday, Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, known for past fiery denunciations of the United States and Israel, spoke at length about his vision for a new world order without the "hegemony of arrogance."

Of Israel, he cited what he termed the "continued threat by the uncivilized Zionists to resort to military action against our great nation."

The U.S. delegation boycotted Ahmadinejad's speech in response to the "paranoid theories and repulsive slurs against Israel" included in a separate address delivered by the Iranian president on Monday.

"It's particularly unfortunate that Mr. Ahmadinejad will have the platform of the U.N. General Assembly on Yom Kippur, which is why the United States has decided not to attend," Erin Pelton, spokeswoman for the U.S. Mission to the U.N., said in a statement.

Thousands of protesters in yellow vests emblazoned with photos of Iranian dissidents they said were killed by the Iranian regime gathered outside U.N. headquarters during the Iranian leader's speech. Speakers included former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-NY, and former Rep. Patrick Kennedy, D-R.I.

In his speech on Wednesday, Ahmadinejad did not refer to Iran's nuclear program. Israel and Western nations contend that Tehran is using what it insists is a peaceful nuclear program as a cover for developing the ability to build atomic weapons.

Tough sanctions have been imposed on Iran as punishment for its failure to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency to prove the peaceful nature of its drive to enrich uranium to levels that could be used to build a nuclear weapon.

Israel has threatened a military strike against Iranian nuclear installations, but Obama insists there is still time to solve the dispute through diplomacy. He has vowed, however, to stop Tehran from obtaining a nuclear arsenal.

Outside the U.N., Alex Mohammed, 40, a restaurant manager from Chicago, stood next to a mock jail cell with a noose next to it, and a cartoon of Ahmadinejad standing under a series of hanged Iranians' legs and the inscription: "We don't have political prisoners in Iran — anymore."

"It's getting worse in Iran, because the dictator is taking away more freedoms, including freedom of speech, and jailing journalists," said Mohammed, who has family in Tehran.

Associated Press writers Maggie Fick and Sarah El Deeb in Cairo, Verena Dobnik in New York, and David Stringer and Ron DePasquale at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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