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Germany Book Fair Marks Anniversary

October 7, 1998

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) _ The Frankfurt Book Fair _ the largest in the world _ opened today with its usual share of political controversy.

Turkey stopped Ayse Zarakolu, winner of the newly established International Freedom to Publish Award, from traveling to Germany today to accept the $6,000 prize and it was presented to her son.

However, Turkish officials unexpectedly reversed the ban later in the day and Zarakolu was due at the fair Thursday, organizers said.

Zarakolu, 52, served almost 16 months in prison for publishing books raising the issues of the Kurdish war and human rights violations in Turkey. She had tried for five years to get her passport back from Turkish authorities, said Gerhard Kurtze, president of the German Book Publishers’ Association.

He said organizers had protested the travel ban through government and U.N. channels.

British writer Salman Rushdie did make an appearance at the fair, despite Iran’s $2.5 million bounty on his head for allegedly insulting Islam. However, the Iranian government has recently distanced itself from the death call issued by the late leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Rushdie unexpectedly showed up at the fair’s invitation-only opening ceremony Tuesday night. He has spent much of the past decade in hiding since Khomeini called for his death on Feb. 14, 1989, claiming his book ``The Satanic Verses″ blasphemed Islam.

Nearly 300,000 visitors are expected to press through the halls to visit the 6,500 exhibitors from 105 countries and catch a glimpse of a favorite author. Among this year’s participants: Ken Follett, Patricia Cornwell, Richard Baldacci and Stewart O’Nan.

By comparison, the second largest book fair, in Chicago, features 1,000 exhibitors.

Born out of the ashes of World War II, the Frankfurt Book Fair began modestly in September 1949. ``It was held in St. Paul’s Cathedral with only 200 exhibitors participating,″ director Peter Weidhaas recalled.

Frankfurt, like much of Germany, was in ruins, and the book fair was an attempt to return to normalcy. Germany’s great book fair for centuries had been held in Leipzig, which after the war was under Soviet occupation and subject to communist censorship.

A modest book fair has been established in Leipzig since former communist East Germany was unified with West Germany in 1990. But after 50 years, Frankfurt’s dominance is unchallenged.

In the early postwar years, Germans had a strong desire for uncensored and foreign literature, which was forbidden under the Nazis.

American Thornton Wilder was the favorite playwright, Hemingway the favorite author. The United States Information Agency printed books by American authors in German and made them available to the public.

In the late 1960s, student protests against bourgeois literature, art and politics threatened to engulf the fair itself. In 1969, protesters destroyed stands of countries they considered undemocratic and police were called in to restore order.

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