BEIRUT (AFP) – Lebanese authorities reversed on Thursday a decision to ban the prize-winning animated film "Persepolis," following an outcry and claims the measure was aimed at pleasing Iran and Shiite clerics.  The general security department, which initially prohibited the film, said the ministry of interior, of which it is a part, had "decided to authorise the film’s distribution in Lebanon".

It said "personal, political or confessional motivations" had nothing to do with the original banning. On Wednesday, general security chief General Wafiq Jizzini, whose agency handles censorship, told AFP he had decided to ban the film after Shiite officials expressed concern that its content was offensive to Muslims and to Iran. "The office that handles censorship matters informed me in their report that the film attacks Islam and the Iranian regime, and this could spark tension with Iran," Jizzini said. "I can go back on my decision, I respect freedom of expression," he said. "But given the current political crisis in Lebanon , this is not the time to add fuel to the fire."

Jizzini said Hezbollah had not influenced his decision to prohibit the film.The ban drew condemnation in many circles, with some saying it smacked of hypocrisy and showed that some within the government were kowtowing to Iran. Culture Minister Tareq Mitri said he saw no reason why the film should be banned and that he had urged the interior ministry to rescind its decision.

Bassam Eid, production manager at Circuit Empire, the company that was to distribute the film, blasted the ban as ridiculous and unwarranted, especially since pirated copies were widely available in Hezbollah’s stronghold in the southern suburbs of Beirut.

Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a leading member of the ruling coalition, for his part said he was stunned by "this cultural faux-pas that allows a security service to evaluate artistic and cultural works."

The film, which shows its young heroine’s brushes with the authorities in the early days of the Islamic revolution in the 1980s, was screened in Iran last month but is not expected to be shown at mainstream cinemas.

A success in the United States and France, "Persepolis" has been condemned by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad‘s government as Islamophobic and anti-Iranian.

The film, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes and was nominated for an Oscar for best animated film, is based on comic strips by Iranian-French emigre Marjane Satrapi.

Co-directed by Satrapi, it shows repression under the shah but also portrays the social crackdown, arrests and executions that followed the Islamic revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979.

The heroine’s rebellious nature and conflicts with the authorities force her to leave Iran temporarily for Austria and then for France — this time never to return.