Iran arrests UK embassy staff

 

The British government has demanded the release of eight Iranian employees of the British embassy in Tehran who have been detained on accusations of involvement in post-election unrest in the Islamic Republic.

"This is harassment and intimidation of a kind that is quite unacceptable," British Foreign Secretary David Miliband told reporters during a security conference on the Greek island of Corfu. "We want to see (them) released unharmed."

Earlier, an Iranian news agency reported that eight Iranian employees of Britain's embassy in Iran had been detained for involvement in the post-election unrest in the Islamic Republic.

Mr Miliband said the total number of employees in question had been about nine, but some had been released.

"We are still concerned about a number of them who to our knowledge have not been released ... The numbers are changing hour by hour," he said.

"These are hard-working diplomatic staff and the idea that the British Embassy is somehow behind the demonstrations and protests that have been taking place in Tehran in recent weeks is wholly without foundation."

Mr Miliband said Britain had made a strong protest to the Iranian authorities and he would discuss the issue with European Union counterparts in Corfu who were due to discuss the post-election situation in Iran on Sunday.

Iran has accused Western powers - Britain and the United States in particular - of interfering in its internal affairs after the vote, which sparked days of huge demonstrations in which at least 20 people were killed.

British Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced on June 23 that Britain was expelling two Iranian diplomats after the Islamic Republic forced two British diplomats to leave.

The move is likely to strain relations further between London and Tehran following Iran's disputed June 12 presidential election and a tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats.

Iran has accused Western powers - Britain and the United States in particular - of interfering in its internal affairs after the vote, which sparked days of huge demonstrations in which at least 20 people were killed.

Britain and the United States have rejected the accusations.

"Eight local employees at the British embassy who had a considerable role in recent unrest were taken into custody," the semi-official Fars News Agency said, without giving a source. "This group played an active role in provoking recent unrest."

Iran's English-language state Press TV carried a similar report, citing Iranian sources.

In London, a foreign ministry spokesman said, "We have in the last few days received a number of sometimes confused reports that British nationals or others with British connections have been detained. We continue to raise them with the Iranian authorities." A senior diplomat from another Western country said the reported detentions were a "worrying development".

Official results showing hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election by a landslide were met with disbelief by many Iranians who agreed with complaints by the runner-up, Mirhossein

Reuters