ANDREA SEABROOK, host:
There is an Iranian opposition group called the People's Mujahedeen of Iran, or PMOI. It's been designated a foreign terrorist organization in the U.S., Canada and the European Union. Last week, the British parliament voted to take the PMOI off its terror list and the group hopes that other governments may soon follow suit. That injected new enthusiasm into the PMOI's yearly gathering in Paris today.
Eleanor Beardsley sends this report.
ELEANOR BEARDSLEY: Tens of thousands of supporters of the People's Mujahedeen of Iran came from all across Europe and the U.S. to meet in a giant fairground hall on the outskirts of the French capital. A sea of blue flags bearing the veiled fate of the group's leader, Maryam Rajani, waved to the beat of traditional Iranian folk music and songs of resistance. [POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: The leader of the People's Mujahedeen of Iran is Maryam RAJAVI.]
Iranian-American Ali Raza Jaffar Zadai(ph) says the recent British ruling makes this rally different than others.
Mr. ALI RAZA JAFFAR ZADAI (Resident): The momentum has now shifted in favor of the Iranian resistance and the Iranian People's Mujahedeen Organization of Iran and against the Iranian regime. The resistance quickly emerged as this solution to the Iranian crisis.
BEARDSLEY: Jaffar Zadai says the PMOI has massive hidden support inside Iran that could help overthrow the mullah regime, but being listed as a terrorist organization has tied the group's hands. In 1979, the organization took part in overthrowing the monarchy but ended up being pushed aside by the Ayatollah Khomeini. Its members were killed or forced to leave the country.
Long financed by Saddam Hussein, the PMOI led attacks in Iran against government officials, often killing civilians. The U.S. labeled the PMOI a terrorist organization in 1997 as a concession to the reformist Iranian government of Mohammad Khatami. The EU followed suit in 2002.
Lord Robin Corbett, one of the British parliamentarians who worked to remove the group's terrorist label, attended the rally.
Mr. ROBIN CORBETT (British Parliamentarian): The sole reason it was put onto that terrorist list was that the mullahs made it the price of opening talks of Britain and some other EU countries about their nuclear deceit. It's as simple as that.
BEARDSLEY: Critics of the group say it is also a cult and its members are brainwashed by a bizarre mix of Islam, Marxism and feminism espoused by husband-wife leaders, Massoud and Maryam Rajani. Those are all baseless rumors says Allah Istikar(ph), who fled Iran 20 years ago and now lives in France.
Mr. ALLAH ISTIKAR: (Through translator) It's all the mullahs' propaganda and deals they made with the West to demonize us. Just like when Hitler called the resistance fighters terrorists.
BEARDSLEY: Critics also say the PMOI has very little support inside Iran or abroad. One can't help but wonder about the large number of non-Iranian faces at the demonstration. Some people say they were given a free trip to come. 20-year-old Shamez Vatamaborski(ph), who traveled with a group from Poland, admits that not everyone is here to support the Iranian democratic process.
Mr. SHAMEZ VATAMABORSKI (Protester): Probably, some of the people came here because Paris is a very attractive place that we are having. So it's very nice city. And I'm sure there are some people who came here just to see Paris or...
BEARDSLEY: As PMOI leader Maryam Rajani prepares to speak, the crowd goes wild.
Ms. MARYAM RAJAVI (People's Mujahedeen of Iran): (Foreign language spoken)
BEARDSLEY: Students, women, young people, she says, all of you who are revolted by the mMullahs.
(Soundbite of cheering)
Supporters here say being removed from Britain's terrorist blacklist will help improve their image and hopefully prompt the EU and Washington to do the same.
For NPR News, I'm Eleanor Beardsley in Paris.