A CONFERENCE of the world's most prominent Holocaust deniers opened in Iran yesterday amid international condemnation and protests by dozens of Iranian students, who burned pictures of president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and chanted "death to the dictator".
Never has the hardline leader, who was giving a speech at a university in Tehran yesterday, faced such open hostility at home.
One student said the crowd was protesting against the "shameful" Holocaust conference - which was organised after Mr Ahmadinejad described the murder of six million Jews by Nazis a "myth" invented to justify the occupation of Palestinian land - and the "fact that many activists with student movements have not been allowed to attend university".
The conference "has brought to our country Nazis and racists from around the world", the activist added.
The protest will be deeply embarrassing for the president, who has portrayed Iran as champion of free speech in hosting the event, organised by the Iranian foreign ministry.
The two-day meeting has attracted "revisionist" historians with jail records in Europe, and David Duke, an American former Ku Klux Klan leader.
Professors and researchers from France to Indonesia arrived at the plush conference centre in an upmarket north Tehran suburb to give papers on topics such as "Irrational Vocabulary of the American Professorial Class with Regards to the Holocaust".
The conference has embarrassed many ordinary Iranians, who are aware of the damage such events are inflicting on their country's image.
Mr Ahmadinejad responded to the burning of his pictures by protesters at Amir Kabir University by saying: "Everyone should know that Ahmadinejad is prepared to be burned in the path of true freedom, independence and justice."
Welcoming the participants, Manouchehr Mottaki, the foreign minister, said: "The aim of this conference is not to deny or confirm the Holocaust. Its main aim is to create an opportunity for thinkers who cannot express their views freely in Europe about the Holocaust."
Mr Duke said: "There must be freedom of speech, it is scandalous that the Holocaust cannot be discussed freely. It makes people turn a blind eye to Israel's crimes against the Palestinian people."
Several ultra-Orthodox rabbis from Europe and the US sported a flag of Israel with a red line through it on their cloaks and the slogan: "We are Jews, not Zionists" in Hebrew, Arabic and Farsi.
"We came here to put the Orthodox Jewish viewpoint," Ahron Cohen, a British rabbi said. "We certainly say there was a Holocaust... but in no way can it be used as a justification for perpetrating unjust acts against the Palestinians."
In Israel, the official Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, issued a statement condemning the Tehran conference as an attempt to "paint an extremist agenda with a scholarly brush".
THE conference has proved to be a magnet for holocaust deniers worldwide. Some of the leading figures include:
• David Duke, a US academic, a former Louisiana Republic Representative and former member of the Ku Klux Klan.
• Fredrick Toeben, a German-born Australian known for denying the scale of the Holocaust. He has spent time in a German jail for inciting racial hatred.
He brought to the Tehran conference a large model of the Treblinka extermination camp to argue his claim gas chambers did not exist.
• Georges Thiel, a French writer who has been convicted in France for spreading revisionist theories about the mass extermination of Jews. He told the conference the Holocaust was "an enormous lie".
• David Irving, a British historian, is believed to have been invited but is serving a three-year jail term in Austria for denying there were gas chambers in Auschwitz.
• Lady Michele Renouf, an Australian socialite and friend of Irving's, was due to attend. She was ejected from London's Reform Club three years ago after trying to get Irving invited to speak there.
In a 2003 interview, she described Judaism as a "creed of domination and racial superiority" and was last month banned from addressing the far-right British National Party as it thought her views extreme.