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German chancellor rejects Iran ban

BERLIN, Germany -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that she opposes suggestions to ban Iran from the World Cup because of controversial remarks by the country's president.

She was responding to demands to ban Iran because its President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had said Israel should be moved to Europe.

He also suggested the Holocaust might never have happened, but Merkel said she doubted the value of a ban.

"The Iranian team can't influence the comments of their president. That's why I think it's difficult to punish a team by banning them," Merke told Bild am Sonntag.

After the president's remarks the German Foreign Ministry in Berlin summoned Iran's ambassador and made a protest.

Several German soccer leaders, the opposition Greens party and some leaders in Merkel's conservative party called for a ban of the Iranian team.

Meanwhile, German champions Bayern Munich have arranged to play top Iranian club side Persepolis in a friendly in Teheran on January 11.

The match will take place at the 100,000-capacity Azadi Stadium, said Persepolis spokesman Majid Gharagozlou.

The last time Bayern played in Tehran was in 1972 when they lost 6-3 to a select team of players from Tehran clubs.

Franz Beckenbauer captained the German team on that occasion.

"Bayern will play against us with all of its stars, including Ali Karimi," Gharagozlou said, referring to the 26-year-old Iranian who has been labeled "the Asian Maradona" in his home country.

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