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Americans, Iranians Party Together

June 22, 1998

LYON, France (AP) _ Frenzied Iranians spilled out of the stadium into the streets Sunday, turning their 2-1 World Cup soccer victory against the United States into a jubilant rally for dissident leaders.

But Iranians in Tehran took a more traditional approach as thousands poured into the streets to celebrate a game that had obvious ramifications beyond the field because of two decades of tense relations between Iran and the United States.

Thousands in Lyon removed their red and green football jerseys to reveal white T-shirts bearing photos of Maryam Rajavi, wife of Massoud Rajavi, who heads the Mujahadeen Khalq resistance movement. Dissidents want her to be the president of a new Iran.

Dancing to pounding drums and bellowing jubilation, they chanted, ``Iran Rajavi, Rajavi Iran.″ An overwhelming majority at the rally were Iranians living in Europe and elsewhere abroad.

``This is the first time in 18 years we’ve had a chance to express our view like this,″ said Alireza Jafarzadeh, a member of the resistance. ``A lot of these people have lost family members to repression; for them this is life and death.″

French police confiscated many of the shirts before the game, enforcing a FIFA rule against mixing politics and soccer. But organizers claimed 25,000 got through security checks.

The politics abruptly pushed aside soccer after a day of partying between Iranians and Americans, which began as groups from both sides tied together the tips of their national flags and danced the linked colors through the streets.

Amazed Americans beamed to hear their supposed foes chanting, ``U-S-A,″ and not adding ``Down With″ before it.

``We’ve never really stopped being friends, whatever the governments did,″ said Afsaneh, a London architect who withheld her last name for fear of reprisals to her family. She held aloft a huge heart, with ``Iran″ and ``U.S.″ sharing equal space.

Police outside the stadium opened every bag and bundle. Mothers lifted babies from strollers for a careful search. As the game ended, riot police filed out to block off the field.

Banners unfurled at the game read, ``Iran Rajavi.″ Security police pulled them down and hauled at least one Mujahadeen out of the stands. During Iran’s national anthem, new banners appeared, and police poured over the railings to seize them, often by fierce tug-of-war.

The Mujahadeen Khalq has accused France of keeping Iranians out while allowing in secret agents from Tehran to scan the crowd for people they wanted to punish.

French officials confirmed they turned back hundreds of Iranians at the border. Bearded men, identified by exiles as Iranian revolutionary guards, filmed faces among the revelry.

But much of the noise was about soccer. At each goal, Iranians went wild all together, banging drums, blaring horns and yelling in frenzy. In unison, they chanted, ``I-ran, I-ran.″

On a sunny afternoon before the game, it was party time. French municipal police watched indulgently as cheering Iranians spilled out of convertibles on the Place Bellecour, the main square. Riot police standing by stayed well out of sight.

A few Iranian women wore black headdresses to cover their hair. But others with slashes of red and green _ the colors of the Iranian flag _ on their bare shoulders wore skimpy clothes that pushed the lower limits of modesty, even for France.

Thousands of Iranians living in Europe, North America, Asia and Australia came to the game, far outnumbering those traveling from Iran. But almost all insisted that a different place of residence did not dilute their claim to a beloved identity.

``I went to school in Berkeley, I work in London, but I worship Iran,″ Afsaneh said. ``Of course, I’d like to go back, but that is not possible. For now.″

Hatif Abedi Jam, 15, left Iran for Germany when he was 2, and also wants to go back. ``I can’t go now, but maybe things will change.″ He was painted and clothed in bright Iran colors, but a small U.S. flag flew from his hat.

Americans were far fewer, but some were just as exuberant.

Andy Romhanyi, 33, a warehouse manager from Phoenix, painted his face as Old Glory and wore a U.S. flag as a scarf over a flamboyant red, white and blue outfit. His friend, Nicky Carter, wore a sequined vest and elaborate hat in the same colors.

``We don’t give a stuff about politics,″ said Romhanyi, who wanted a win so the U.S. team would advance to the next round. ``It would be a huge, huge shame if we lost, but not because it is Iran.″

He heaved a large arm around two Iranian fans and posed for photographs.

Mostly, Americans stayed to themselves and talked soccer strategy. Rob Ramsay, 27, an accountant from Atlanta, plays the game and is dead serious about it.

``Most of our players are about my age, and they don’t know about the politics,″ he said. ``They say, like, `Great Satan what? But it’s got to be in your head if your government is all over you about it. There’s no point in putting this on them.″

Like many Americans, he was surprised to see an Iranian crowd that was so far from the standard stereotypes. As a result, the game might end up being about more than soccer.

``One guy came up to me and said in clumsy English that he was working for world peace,″ Ramsay said. ``Who knows? I hope this all has some effect. Everything starts somewhere, so it might as well start here.″

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