Friends of Salman Rushdie called Saturday for an end to Iranian death threats against the British author and the removal of the $2.5 million bounty on his head.

On the ninth anniversary of the fatwa that condemned Rushdie to death, the International Rushdie Defense Committee said that it welcomed a strong statement by European Union leader Britain expressing grave concern at continuing death threats.The European Union called on Iran not to carry out the religious ruling, by Iran's former spiritual leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, that condemned Rushdie to death for alleged blasphemy in his novel "The Satanic Verses."

The fatwa said any Muslim in a position to kill Rushdie had a duty to do so.

Iranian newspapers marked the anniversary by saying the death order should be carried out.

"The Iranian nation and all the Muslim nations are standing firm against the cultural invasion of the West and more than at any time believe in the historic fatwa of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini about the execution of the turncoat Salman Rushdie," the hard-line Jomhuri Eslami daily said in a commentary.

Jomhuri Eslami printed a 16-page special supplement that included the original fatwa, signed and sealed by Khomeini who ousted the Shah in 1979.

"I call on the Muslims to execute the author and publishers of The Satanic Verses wherever they find them, and whoever is killed in this way is a martyr," Khomeini stated in the edict.

The British statement, issued by the Foreign Office, urged the Iranian authorities to work with the EU to find a satisfactory solution.

"The European Union welcomes the new Iranian government's stated commitment to respect the rule of law and their emphasis on the need for a dialogue of civilizations.

"The European Union hopes that this will take us towards the assurances that we need to remove the threat to Salman Rushdie's life," the statement said.

British officials said Foreign Secretary Robin Cook would meet Rushdie soon to underline the government's commitment to his case.