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Protests surround Ahmadinejad’s NYC visit

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NEW YORK — Whenever Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad comes to New York, protesters pay attention. They know where he's staying. They stand outside the building when he makes a speech, holding signs calling him a dictator, comparing him to Adolph Hitler, telling him to go to hell.

"We want him to see he's not welcome here,' said Nathan Carleton, spokesman for United Against Nuclear Iran, which is gearing up for Ahmadinejad's arrival this weekend for the United Nations General Assembly.

Ahmadinejad, who is scheduled to make a speech at the UN on Wednesday, is expected to stay for the second straight year at the posh Warwick New York Hotel. A spokesman for the hotel did not confirm whether the leader would be staying there. The hotel didn't confirm his stay there last year, either.

As they did last year, members of United Against Nuclear Iran will be protesting outside and inside, reserving a room in hopes of taking their outrage as close to Ahmadinejad and his entourage as possible.

"We had people walking around the hotel wearing shirts with his face crossed out on them," Carleton said. The group is working to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons.

The anger extends to the hotel itself. United Against Nuclear Iran and several prominent Jewish groups had urged the Warwick not to provide luxury accommodations for a man who denies the Holocaust and says the U.S. orchestrated the Sept. 11 attacks, and who has also come under criticism for Iran's repressive treatment of its people and its support of groups like Hamas.

"No more than you would host in your home a criminal, why would you make it easy here for a rogue regime?" said Daniel Mariaschin, executive vice president of B'nai B'rith International, the Jewish human rights advocacy group. The organization has sent letters to the Warwick asking that it not let Ahmadinejad stay there.

"U.S. businesses are under no obligation to accept the business of any delegation to the UN General Assembly," he said.

An Israeli legal group representing a New Yorker injured in a suicide bombing who later won a $12 million judgment against Iran is going further — filing legal papers asking that the Warwick turn over any money paid by Iran for the delegation's hotel rooms.

In a motion filed last week in federal court in Manhattan, Shurat HaDin Israel Law Center demanded that the Warwick either refuse to let Ahmadinejad stay, or hand over Ahmadinejad's hotel fees to its client, Stuart Hersh.

Hersh, now living in Israel, survived a 1997 suicide bombing and sued Iran for damages, accusing the country of supporting Islamic Hamas, which staged the attack. He lost part of his hearing and slurs his speech since the blast.

"We haven't been able to collect anything. So as far as I'm concerned, it's a matter of justice," Hersh said.

Nitsana Darshan-Leitner, the law center's director, said while Ahmadinejad has the right as a world leader to speak at the UN, that "does not give any rights to any war criminal to walk around New York and engage with other businesses that have nothing to do with the United Nations."

A representative of the Warwick did not comment on the protests or the legal action.

Christopher DeVito, executive director of the advocacy group Iran180, said the organization will have a protest at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza on Wednesday when Ahmadinejad is scheduled to speak. Iran180 wants a change in Iran's nuclear and human rights policies.

It was unclear what events, if any, outside of his UN appearance are on Ahmadinejad's schedule, but in previous years, they haven't been exempt from protest either, as in 2007, when he spoke at Columbia University.

Associated Press writers Aron Heller and Tia Goldenberg in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

Follow Deepti Hajela at www.twitter.com/dhajela