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Top Iranian cleric calls for protests against Azerbaijan amid mounting tensions.
Iran has pulled its envoy to Azerbaijan in protest of Baku's believed tolerance for gay protests as the city hosts the hugely popular Eurovision song contest, reported Reuters.
The reason for the move remains unclear, however, given that Azerbaijan has never held a gay parade and there are no independent reports of one being planned alongside Saturday's Eurovision Song Contest, said The Daily Telegraph.
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Iran and Azerbaijan, two largely Shiite nations that often spar over policy differences, have lately accused one another of interfering in one another's affairs, said Reuters.
Though it's billed as an apolitical event, the Eurovision song contest often reveals simmering differences between competing nations.
Iran's semi-official Fars news agency quoted top Iranian cleric Ayatollah Sobhani as calling for protests against Azerbaijan, with whom Iran's ties are strained, over the nation's "anti-Islamic and anti-Iranian policies." Fars claimed a gay pride parade was being organized in Azerbaijan for the final day of the contest on May 26.
Reuters reported that Tehran has also been riled by anti-Iranian protests held in Baku recently in which protesters carried signs critical of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, reading, "Azerbaijan does not need clerics-homosexuals!"
Azerbaijan's candidate won the song contest when it was held in Germany last year, a triumph that handed the country hosting rights this year. The event is being seen as opportunity for the government to boost its international image, though it has also shed a light on the regime's poor rights record, said Reuters.