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Iranian diplomat quits to join opposition group

Milan vice consul latest high-profile diplomat to defect

An Iranian diplomat has quit the country's consulate in Milan to join the opposition "Green Wave" movement in France, the group said in a statement on Monday.

Ahmed Maleki, first secretary and vice consul at Iran's consulate in Milan, is the latest high-profile diplomat to defect from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's foreign service.

"Mr. Ahmed Maleki and all members of his immediate family have arrived in France where he is to seek political asylum," the group, which was set up in March 2010, said.

The Green Wave is headed by exiled Iranian businessman Amir Jahanshahi.

According to the group, the 49 year-old Maleki is a nephew of Ayatollah Mehsi Karroubi, one of the key opposition leaders currently in Iran.

Nobody was immediately available for comment at the Iranian embassy in Rome.

Iranian authorities, seeking to avoid a revival of the mass anti-government rallies that erupted after the 2009 elections, warned on Saturday that any illegal gatherings by the opposition would be confronted.

Two people were killed and dozens arrested last week when thousands of opposition supporters in Tehran and other cities took to the streets in sympathy with uprisings that toppled the leaders of Egypt and Tunisia.

"By announcing his resignation from his post and openly siding with his compatriots, Mr. Maleki has displayed to the Iranian people and world public opinion that the people of Iran are not alone in their struggle." the statement said.

According to a Greenwave spokeswoman, Maleki had been in his Milan post since May 2009 and had worked with the foreign ministry for 24 years.

The Green Wave also said it had a number of other diplomats in various embassies and officials linked to foreign policy cooperating with it clandestinely.

Maleki joins, among others, the former Iranian consul to Norway, an air force officer and a general from the Republic Guard, who have defected to the Green Wave.