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Rushdie Still Can't Rest Easy

Hopes that British author Salman Rushdie could return to normal life after 10 years in hiding received a severe blow on Monday when an Iranian religious foundation increased the bounty on his head.

"The bodyguards stay for now. Salman's situation is being reviewed but I expect he will remain very cautious. We always knew this was going to be a vulnerable time," Frances D'Souza, spokeswoman for Article 19, the human rights group which has championed Rushdie's cause, told Reuters.

An Iranian newspaper reported on Monday that the head of the 15th of Khordad Foundation had increased its $2.5 million bounty on the British author's head by $300,000. Only last month, the Iranian government officially ended its call for Rushdie's death.

The Iranian foundation's move was a striking demonstration of the infighting within Iran's fractured government between hard-liners and moderates gathered around President Mohammad Khatami, who has sought to improve ties with the West since he assumed office last year.

"To set a reward for killing Salman Rushdie has been a great honor for this foundation and we will keep this honor. We should not let this issue be forgotten," said Ayatollah Hassan Saneii, the head of the Foundation.

On Saturday, a hard-line student group was also reported to have offered one 1 billion rials ($333,000) to anyone who carried out the fatwa, or religious order, to kill Rushdie.

The late revolutionary Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued the fatwa against the author for alleged blasphemy contained in his book The Satanic Verses.

Powerful government hard-liners, dismayed over Khatami's efforts to improve ties with the West, were not happy with the new government position on Rushdie.

Earlier this month, more than half of Iran's hard-line parliament signed a letter saying the death edict stands.

Rushdie, having spent the last 10 years under British police protection, had hailed Iran's decision last month to end official calls for his death as the beginning of his return to normality.

Rushdie will meet British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook in the next two days to discuss recent developments, she said.

The Foreign Office said it deplored any attempt to put a price on a British citizen's head and that no bounty offer had the backing of the Iranian authorities.

But D'Souza suggested the Foundation must have the implicit blessing of the Iranian government as, she said, no religious organization could operate without state permission.

"The Foundation has no money of its own so where's the money coming from? These questions have to be answered," D'Souza said.

In September, Iran and Britain said they would upgrade diplomatic ties to ambassadorial level after the Iranian government dropped its threat to Rushdie and the British government dissociated itself from the contents of the book.

The Rushdie affair has been athe center of tension between Britain and Iran since Khomeini issued the order a few months before he died in 1989.

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report

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