Iran's Azeris march to condemn cartoon and riots

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TEHRAN, May 24 (Reuters) About 20,000 members of Iran's Azeri minority marched through the northwestern city of Tabriz today, condemning a newspaper cartoon that mocked them and the violent protests it sparked, state media reported.

Azeris had pelted government buildings and banks with stones on Monday night, enraged by the cartoon which appeared in the state's official ''Iran'' newspaper.

The lampoon showed a boy repeating the Persian word for cockroach in different ways while an uncomprehending bug in front of him says ''What?'' in Azeri.

Azeris, originally from northwestern Iran, speak a language closely related to Turkish and make up about 25 per cent of the overall population of the Islamic Republic.

The official IRNA news agency said today's marchers called on the government to confront those who had turned their peaceful protest about the cartoon into violence on Monday night.

State television showed the crowd chanting ''Death to America'' and ''Death to Israel'', hallmarks of government-organised protests.

Police said 54 were arrested in Monday's unrest.

The judiciary banned Iran newspaper yesterday for stirring up ethnic rifts and jailed the cartoonist and the editor-in chief of the daily.

Although Azeris have many luminaries among Iran's commercial elite, Iran's majority Persians often depict them as slow-witted in their jokes.

REUTERS SHR BST1952

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