- Christmas - Mahmoud Ahmadinejad - UK
AFP - Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad stoked criticism on Thursday by delivering a Christmas message on British television, saying if Jesus were alive he would oppose "expansionist powers."
Ahmadinejad said in the address on Channel Four that Jesus Christ would oppose "bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers."
Britain's Foreign Office condemned the speech, while Israel's ambassador to London called it a "national embarrassment."
The Channel Four broadcast is seen as an alternative to Queen Elizabeth II's traditional annual address to the Commonwealth, which aired earlier in the day, and the station had invited Ahmadinejad to speak.
"President Ahmadinejad has during his time in office made a series of appalling anti-Semitic statements," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.
"The British media are rightly free to make their own editorial choices, but this invitation will cause offence and bemusement not just at home but amongst friendly countries abroad."
The move had already been criticised by some Jewish groups and the Israeli ambassador to London, Ron Prosor, who labelled it a "scandal and a national embarrassment".
Ahmadinejad is the most high-profile guest yet on Channel Four's alternative Christmas broadcast, which started in 1993 and has seen Jesse Jackson, Brigitte Bardot and cartoon character Marge Simpson among others take to the airwaves.
He began by congratulating Christians and the people of Britain on the anniversary of the birth of Christ, which Christians celebrate on Christmas Day.
"If Christ were on Earth today, undoubtedly he would stand with the people in opposition to bullying, ill-tempered and expansionist powers," he said.
"If Christ were on Earth today, undoubtedly he would hoist the banner of justice and love for humanity to oppose warmongers, occupiers, terrorists and bullies the world over."
Speaking in Farsi, Ahmadinejad blamed society's problems on humanity's rejection of religion but predicted Christ would return "with one of the children of the revered Messenger of Islam and will lead the world to love, brotherhood and justice".
He ended by saying: "I pray for the New Year to be a year of happiness, prosperity, peace and brotherhood for humanity. I wish you every success and happiness."
Explaining the decision to invite Ahmadinejad to speak, Channel Four's head of news and current affairs Dorothy Byrne said: "As the leader of one of the most powerful states in the Middle East, President Ahmadinejad's views are enormously influential.
"As we approach a critical time in international relations, we are offering our viewers an insight into an alternative world view."
Britain and Iran have had rocky relations for years, particularly over Iran's disputed nuclear programme which it says is for civilian purposes but the West fears could be used to make arms.