Ahmadinejad lauded in Iran for "Lion's Den" visit

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TEHRAN, Sep 26 (Reuters) President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad may have faced ridicule in the United States by suggesting there were no homosexuals in Iran, but he won praise at home today for taking his country's case to ''the Lion's Den''.

Generally, politicians and media in the Islamic Republic -- even some who have previously criticised the president -- described Ahmadinejad's visit to New York as a triumph and denounced the university president who called him ''a petty and cruel dictator''.

But one pro-reform newspaper said that, although the president told his US audience he respected academics, that was not always how it seemed at home.

Ahmadinejad, who often rails against the West, travelled to the United States at a time of escalating tension between the two foes over Tehran's nuclear ambitions and the war in Iraq.

The president spoke at Columbia University on Monday and yesterday addressed the UN General Assembly, where he told world leaders the issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions was ''closed'' and that military threats and sanctions had failed.

''By fearlessly and courageously walking into the 'Lion's Den' ... he is sure to become even more of a hero in the Arab-Muslim street than before,'' the daily Iran News wrote.

Iran denies US accusations it is seeking atomic bombs, saying it wants to generate electricity. It also rejects accusations it is violating human rights and muzzling critics.

LAUGHTER Around 200 lawmakers hailed Ahmadinejad's ''historical and memorable'' stay in New York, saying in a statement his 'courageous'' speech on Monday had made Muslims happy while angering Iran's enemies like Israel, the Mehr News Agency said.

Others condemned the way Ahmadinejad was treated at Columbia niversity, where he criticised Israel and the United States and provoked laughter and jeers by saying Iran had no homosexuals.

Homosexuality is a crime punishable by death in Iran.

Introducing Ahmadinejad, Columbia University President Lee Bollinger said he acted like a dictator and his Holocaust denials showed he was ''brazenly provocative or astonishingly uneducated''.

One Iranian MP described Bollinger's remarks as insulting.

The head of Iran's judiciary, Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi- Shahroudi, who has in the past criticised Ahmadinejad, said he had defied hostile ''plotters'' to deliver his speech.

But the reformist newspaper, Aftab-e Yazd, contrasted his comments in New York on how Iran respects its academics with the way some of them were being treated in the country.

The daily referred to a harshly worded response by some officials to an open letter in June signed by 57 economists criticising the government's economic and foreign policies.

''No doubt, Ahmadinejad's logic and composure in the face of the Columbia University head's disgracing remarks is a cause of pride for all Iranians,'' it wrote. ''However, history will remember this behaviour only if ... he can prove that he trusts all academics and in all affairs.'' Reuters JK DB1917

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