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Iran facing environmental crisis, warns vice president

TEHRAN, Iran, May 28, 2000 (AFP) - Iranians must change their lifestyles if the country hopes to turn around its beleaguered environment, Vice President Massumeh Ebtekar said Sunday.

"The environment and ecology must become policy priorities," she said in an interview with AFP.

"Serious threats confront our seas, the Persian Persian Gulf and the Caspian Sea, and our cities, particularly Tehran."

Ebtekar said Iranians had so far failed to serious action to cure the problems, even though a recent poll by the government found that 90 percent of Tehran residents were worried about the worsening state of their environment.

"The time has now come for a fight against pollution, in terms of living and protection of nature and animals," she said. "We ask Iranians to change their lifestyles."

Tehran, which has about 10 million residents, is one of the world's most polluted cities.

Ebtekar said the problem is largely caused by the two million cars in Tehran, of which 700,000 are more than 20 years old.

The vice president said the capital needed to develop public transportation; the recently opened underground (US: subway) so far has only one line. She also said the use of unleaded gasoline has recently taken off.

"We are approaching European standards," she said. "But all of our efforts are long-term."

Ebtekar also noted that the waters of the Persian Gulf, polluted by Iran's war with Iraq and then the Persian Gulf War, were now monitored by a research ship, named Qods (Jerusalem).