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Iranian Diplomats Defect in Finland, Belgium

Iranian opposition members say another Iranian diplomat has defected in Europe - this time in Belgium, Iranian opposition members said Monday, just hours after the No. 2 man at the Iran mission in Helsinki said he would seek asylum in Finland.

The Europe-based Green Wave opposition movement said Farzad Farhangian, press attache at the Iranian Embassy in Brussels, walked out Friday and flew to Oslo. The group's founder, Amir Hossein Jahanchahi, said in a statement that "other defections from diplomats abroad will follow."

It was the third known defection of an Iranian diplomat in Europe this year to protest Tehran's crackdown on dissent following the re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last year.

Mohammed Reza Heydari, who was granted asylum in Norway after leaving his post as an Iranian consular official there in January, confirmed that Farhangian had defected in Brussels.

"He left the embassy after informing the ambassador that he was leaving and he came here without anyone (else) knowing about this," Heydari said by telephone from Oslo. "Then he contacted me."

No one at the Iranian Embassy in Brussels could be reached for comment after office hours Monday.

Heydari said Farhangian was a member of the Green Wave movement, which grew out of unrest that followed the June 2009 disputed presidential election, in which the opposition says Ahmadinejad was re-elected through fraud. Street protests led to massive arrests and a continuing crackdown.

Earlier Monday, Iranian diplomat Hossein Alizadeh, who resigned last week from the embassy in Finland, said he will apply for political asylum in the Nordic country.

"I cannot accept, tolerate this fraud election. The situation got worse because ... my people are being killed still," Alizadeh told reporters in Helsinki.

He said he was no longer a diplomat but "a political dissident."

The Iranian Embassy in Helsinki said in a statement that Alizadeh's term of office had been terminated on Aug. 20.

Alizadeh said he has no political ambitions except to be a member of Green Wave, "just to be a member standing beside the others."

The Finnish Foreign Ministry said that Alizadeh had worked at the embassy in Helsinki since October 2007 and still had diplomatic status. It declined further comment.

"Ahmadinejad is not any more the Iranian leader and he doesn't represent Iran," the 45-year-old Alizadeh said. "Do not take him seriously. He (does) not have any popularity among the Iranians."

He said that since the Green Wave movement was formed after the 2009 election, he "felt confident" that he has "been followed and bugged." He said his criticism of the regime also gave him cause to worry about the safety of his wife and family who live with him in Finland, including two sons and an eight-year-old daughter.

"Using this language puts me in a situation to look for shelter for myself. I am going to request political asylum from the Finnish government, and here are my passports," he said throwing four of them on a table. "I am going to leave these passports to whoever lets me stay here."

About 2,500 Iranian immigrants live in the Nordic country. About 300 were granted political asylum in 2008 and 2009, according to official immigration statistics.

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