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Big business and protest greet Iranian president in Paris

As the leaders of Iran and France announce deals and renew ties, protesters draw attention to Iran's human rights record
A FEMEN activist hangs from a mock noose to protest against Hassan Rouhani's visit to Paris (AFP)

Iran and France announced several major business deals as part of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani's visit to Paris on Thursday while hundreds of protesters condemned his country's human rights record.

After visiting Rome earlier this week, Rouhani was welcomed to the French capital with military honours and national anthems on the second leg of a trip signalling Iran's rapprochement with Europe since sanctions were lifted earlier this month.

The deals announced on Thursday include the purchase of $25bn worth of Airbus aircraft and the sale of up to 200,000 barrels of Iranian crude oil a day to French energy giant Total.

Rouhani and his French counterpart, Francois Hollande, hailed a "new relationship" between their countries during a press conference.

"A new era in our relationship starts today," Hollande said at a press conference with Rouhani.

"Let us forget the resentment," Rouhani said. "We are ready to turn the page" and establish a "new relationship," he said.

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls said Iran "can count on France".

Later on Thursday, Rouhani even suggested the two countries should swap intelligence to fight against "fanaticism, terrorism and extremism".

As deals were announced and public addresses made, protesters took to the streets to call attention to Iran's human rights record under Rouhani's tenure, which has seen some 2,000 people executed in his three years in power. They also spoke out against Tehran's alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Some 800 protesters waving Iranian flags joined a 4km march to Les Invalides, the military complex that includes Napoleon's tomb and where Rouhani was feted with military honours earlier in the day.

"Welcome Rouhani, executioner of freedom," read a banner on the Paris bridge from which a Femen activist was suspended in a mock noose.

At a rally after the march, Maryam Radjavi, president of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, condemned Rouhani's "facade of moderation".

"As a top official for 37 years in the religious dictatorship in Iran, Rouhani is implicated in all the atrocities of this regime and as a result should be brought to justice for crimes against humanity," she told the crowd.

Shaghayegh Azimi, a 23-year-old refugee, told AFP that her parents, both human rights activists, have been in and out of prison in Iran for the past eight years. "This regime is not moderate. They tortured my mother," she said.

Jewish groups including the French Union of Jewish Employers held a smaller protest outside the French parliament.

"In Iran in 2016, a person is executed every eight hours," read one banner.

Another depicted the red carpet outside the presidential Elysee Palace turning into a sea of blood, and read: "Blood-red carpet for Rouhani, Don't sweep human rights under the rug."

French Green MEP and veteran activist Jose Bove told the crowd: "Human rights must be put ahead of business interests," adding: "Iranians should be able to live in a secular state."

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