Go forth and multiply says Iran's president
IRAN'S hardline president has unveiled a novel way to intimidate the West - by urging his people to go forth and multiply.
"Western countries have problems, and since they have a negative population growth, they are worried and scared that if our population grows we may dominate them," Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said.
His appeal for a baby boom that would nearly double the Islamic republic's population has alarmed critics, who say the country would not be able to cope.
Despite Iran's oil wealth, many ordinary people need several jobs to make ends meet. Inflation officially stands at 10 per cent, but is thought to be twice that, while unemployment, officially about 12 per cent, is probably twice as high among young people.
One economist said Mr Ahmadinejad's call was a publicity-seeking gimmick to distract attention from the government's economic failures. But the president says his country of 70 million people could cope with 50 million more.
His controversial remarks to government ministers and deputies are in stark contrast to Iran's long-held policy of controlling population. So successful has it been at family planning that the United Nations considers it a model for other Muslim countries.
Mr Ahmadinejad, a father of three, said he wanted to overturn current policy that discourages Iranian couples from having more than two children.
"I am against saying that two children are enough," he said. "Our country has a lot of capacity. It has the capacity for many children to grow in it. Iran even has the capacity for 120 million people."
The president suggested he was ready to decrease the working hours of married women or those with families to make it easier for them to have more children. He said he was not against women working, but believed they could work part-time while being paid full-time to allow them to spend more time with their children.
The reformist Etemad-e-Melli newspaper called Mr Ahmadinejad's remarks "ill-considered". It added: "He stresses the necessity of population growth and the triumph of Iran over western governments, ignoring the fact that what leads to such triumph is not population size but knowledge, technology, wealth, welfare and security."
Birth rates surged after the 1979 Islamic revolution when, during the devastating eight-year war with Iraq, the religious authorities encouraged Iranians to have more babies. By 1986, the population had soared by 17 million to 50 million. The birth rate stood at 3.2 per cent, among the highest in the world.
But when the bloodshed with Iraq ended in 1988 and the economy dived, Iran's ruling clerics realised they would have huge difficulties reconciling the population explosion with the goals of social and economic development. Providing jobs, housing, education and health would be a nightmare.
The Ayatollah Khomeini, the father of the revolution, approved a family planning programme launched in 1989. Virtually every form of contraception was provided free of charge. Mobile teams visit remote areas to offer on-the-spot vasectomies and tubal ligations.
Iran's population growth rate now stands at about 1.2 per cent, similar to that of the US.
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