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'Who said I hate the West?'

2009-12-20 14:21

Copenhagen - He may be the West's favourite bogeyman but Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insists he's really just another guy.

"I am an ordinary person, a father, a husband, a brother, an uncle, a friend," he tells AFP in an interview.

"I live just like everyone else," the 53-year-old said with a laugh.

"I have a family," made up of a wife, two sons and a daughter. "We go to family get-togethers, we go out. We play sports."

The laugh follows a flashing trademark smile that can be disarming when the subject turns to nuclear ambitions and other weighty issues that plague Iran.

With Iraq's Saddam Hussein long gone, Ahmadinejad's harangues against Israel and the United States have earnt him the mantle of the man the West loves to hate.

He had spent the whole day on Friday meeting fellow politicians, staging yet another feisty press conference and giving interviews to various media outlets on the sidelines of the climate summit in the Danish capital.

But as evening wears on he shows no sign of boredom or annoyance even in the face of personal questions intended to shed light on the character that seems to relish repeated defiance of the international community.

'We're not afraid of America'

When he's not launching impassioned tirades against the Great Satan, Ahmadinejad says his life is normal for a devout Muslim living in the Islamic Republic.

"Who said I hate the West?" he asks, turning the original question on its head. "I just disagree with some of the things done by some politicians who are not honest and behave badly in the West."

The blacksmith's son does not open up during the 45-minute chat in a five-star airport hotel decked out with Christmas trees and lights.

Asked if he is aware or concerned about how he is portrayed as a bogeyman in the West, the brush-off reply takes a full five minutes, just like the answers to most questions. And interrupting the verbal flow is not easy.

For a major player strutting the world stage, Ahmadinejad certainly cuts an unusual, petite figure close-up in the flesh.

His dark eyes light up in conversation, particularly when he turns to the "no fear" leitmotif that peppers his discourse.

"We are not afraid of America," he repeats over and over, demanding respect and honesty from the international community as a pre-requisite for improved diplomatic relations and perhaps a deal on Iran's uranium enrichment programme.

'We have to be sincere'

The workaholic who rose to power as a provincial governor and mayor of Tehran, sports a greying light beard and open neck shirt. His black suit is sharp with a fine pin-strip.

Troubles, he seems to wear lightly.

The crackdown on opposition protests at home following allegations that his June 12 re-election was rigged is simply shrugged off. The rule of law will be applied, "justice will follow its course," he says.

Ahmadinejad unsurprisingly reveals little of who he really is behind the public facade of the hero to Iran's rural poor and quickly reverts to being a full-time politician.

"What is different in Iran," he says, "is that politicians say the same thing to people in private as they say in public.

"We have to be sincere," he adds, without a smile.

Ahmadinejad offers Christmas greetings to all and sundry and even voices hope for a second coming of Jesus.

"Happy Christmas," he shouts holding out his hand to shake before marching off for the next meeting.