Monday, May 15, 2000 | 4:08 a.m.
Persecuted writers will be able to seek refuge in this gambling capital under a program announced Monday.
The International Parliament of Writers announced Las Vegas will become the organization's first North American-based "city of asylum" for writers.
The program seeks cities to provide housing, work space, transportation and funding for writers being punished for expressing freedom of speech. It was inspired by writer Salman Rushdie, who received death threats from Middle Eastern extremists for his book, "Satanic Verses."
The writers parliament arranged for a city of asylum for Rushdie in Strasbourg, France, and the program has since added others worldwide.
Mayor Oscar Goodman, in announcing the program, said Las Vegas will be the first North American city to serve as a haven for writers "penalized for expressing free thought."
Nobel Laureate Wole Soyinka was on hand for Monday's announcement. Soyinka, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1986, was imprisoned in his homeland of Nigeria for almost two years for supporting the separatist movement that became known as the Biafran War. He is head of the writers parliament
Mandalay Resort Group, one of the nation's top casino companies, is providing seed money.
"More and more Las Vegas has become a cultural destination," said Glenn Schaeffer, Mandalay president. "And as much as any city in America, we stand for freedom of expression."
Previous city of asylum writers have come from such countries as Algeria, Cuba, Iran, Nigeria, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.
The identity of the first Las Vegas-based writer will be announced this summer. The writer is expected to establish residency here by September.