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Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad placed himself in the company of Christ in taped comments aired Thursday on Britain's Channel 4 in the broadcaster's annual "alternative Christmas message."
"If Christ were on earth today, undoubtedly He would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers," Ahmadinejad said, after congratulating "the followers of Abrahamic faiths" and the people of Britain on the Christmas holiday.
Speaking in Farsi with English subtitles, he went on to call on both groups to "prepare the way" for "the arrival of that joyful, shining and wonderful age."
Channel 4's decision to feature Ahmadinejad - the first foreign head of state to deliver a message billed as an alternative to the queen's traditional broadcast - drew a sharp rebuke from the British government and Jewish groups worldwide.
A Foreign Office spokeswoman issued the following statement: "President Ahmadinejad has, during his time in office, made a series of appalling anti-Semitic statements. The British media are rightly free to make their own editorial choices, but this invitation will cause offence and bemusement not just at home but amongst friendly countries abroad."
Channel 4 news chief Dorothy Byrne defended the decision as part of an effort to offer viewers "an insight into an alternative world view."
"As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad's views are enormously influential," Byrne said in a statement. "Channel 4 has devoted more airtime to examining Iran than any other broadcaster and this message continues a long tradition of offering a different perspective on the world around us."
Ahmadinejad's seven-minute speech, sandwiched between a documentary about a musician with cystic fibrosis and the evening news, was preceded by a brief, anonymous narration outlining recent international controversies surrounding Teheran.
The segment, advertised as an effort to put Ahmadinejad's appearance in context, featured images of Iranian crowds waving flags and pictures, but glossed over issues like Ahmadinejad's denial of the Holocaust and Teheran's nuclear program.
"President Ahmadinejad has used anti-Israeli rhetoric and has questioned the number of Jews killed in the Holocaust," the narrator said.
Ahmadinejad said in 2005 that Jews "have created a myth today that they call the massacre of Jews."
The Channel 4 narration also referred to UN sanctions against Teheran over its uranium enrichment program.
"The US under George Bush and Israel have refused to rule out military action," the narration went on, noting that the relationship with Iran would be a major focus for incoming US president Barack Obama.
MP Louise Ellman, chairwoman of the Labor Jewish Movement, slammed the broadcast in comments to BBC.
"I condemn Channel 4's decision to give an unchallenged platform to a dangerous fanatic who denies the Holocaust while preparing for another, and claims homosexuality does not exist [in Iran] while his regime hangs gay young men from cranes in the street," Ellman said. "Who will deliver next year's alternative Christmas message? Will it be David Irving or Robert Mugabe?"
The Board of Deputies of British Jews also said the broadcast was offensive.
"To invite him to deliver a Christmas message, even a so-called alternative one, fills me with disgust," said the group's president, Henry Grunwald.
Jewish groups in America added their objections.
"It begs belief that a British broadcaster wants to enable a serial human rights abuser to invade the homes of families on Christmas Day," said David A. Harris, the executive director of the American Jewish Committee. "Why would any responsible broadcaster choose to give this hatemonger an unchallenged platform - especially on the day that celebrates peace on earth and goodwill to all men?"
The speech, which was recorded on Tuesday night, was broadcast in the evening to avoid conflicting with the queen's traditional Christmas address.
She made a reference to the "sombre" nature of this year's celebrations - widely interpreted in the British press as a reference to last month's terrorist attacks in Mumbai.
"People are touched by events which have their roots far across the world," she said. "Whether it is the global economy or violence in a distant land, the effects can be keenly felt at home."
Last year's message was delivered by Sgt.-Maj. Andrew Stockton, a British soldier badly wounded in Afghanistan.
AP contributed to this report.
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