Iran’s president has asked the US to release eight Iranian prisoners as a “humanitarian gesture.”
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is in New York for the annual UN General Assembly this week. In a televised interview he called for Washington to free the Iranians who he said had been “illegally arrested.”
Last week Iran released one of three American hikers detained since last summer. Sarah Shourd used her own press conference in New York on Sunday to appeal to Tehran to free her two friends who remain in prison on spying charges.
Also in his TV interview, Ahmadinejad denied claims by US officials that Iran is starting to feel the pinch of sanctions imposed by the West over its nuclear programme.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also voiced fears that Iran’s military was exerting too powerful an influence in the country’s political life.
Protests are expected throughout the week in New York by groups wanting to draw attention to Iran’s human rights record.