Reuters: Iranian protesters hurled stones and big firecrackers at Britain’s embassy in Tehran on Sunday in a worsening crisis over 15 detained British naval personnel. By Fredrik Dahl
TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iranian protesters hurled stones and big firecrackers at Britain’s embassy in Tehran on Sunday in a worsening crisis over 15 detained British naval personnel.
No one was hurt by the small explosive devices, which went off with loud bangs and sent clouds of smoke rising from inside the compound. About 100 demonstrators chanted: “British, British, death to you, death to you.”
Iran’s capture of the 15 sailors and marines has drawn international criticism but Tehran has ignored calls to release the 14 men and one woman, saying Britain must admit they illegally entered Iranian waters.
London insists they were in Iraqi territory when seized.
One witness counted eight blasts from the embassy compound. Demonstrators, who scuffled with police, included members of the Basij, a hardline religious militia. Protesters called for the embassy to be closed down.
“We heard some bangs but there is no damage and no fire. We are carrying on with work,” said a British diplomat from inside the compound.
The row, at a time of heightened Middle East tensions over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme, pushed oil prices last week to six-month highs. The West accuses Iran of trying to build nuclear bombs, a charge Tehran denies.
U.S. President George W. Bush on Saturday called on Iran to release the 15 at once. “The Iranians must give back the hostages. They’re innocent,” he said. “The Iranians took these people out of Iraqi waters. It’s inexcusable behaviour.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, current holder of the European Union presidency, demanded the sailors’ release.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying on state television: “Iran is waiting for a change of behaviour by Britain and a balanced stance by this country over our legal demands.”
He did not outline the demands but, in a speech on Saturday, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Britain should have apologised. He has also accused London of not following “the legal or logical way” in the dispute.
Iran sent a letter to the British embassy complaining about a shooting by British troops near its consulate in the Iraqi city of Basra, Iran’s student news agency ISNA reported.
Iran said it was a provocative act but Britain denied any aggressive action and said the shooting on Thursday came from a British convoy that was ambushed in the same street.
Mottaki said Iran was studying a written message sent by British Foreign Minister Margaret Beckett that replied to an earlier Iranian diplomatic note on the detentions.
“There are many points in this note that we will look into,” the Iranian foreign minister said.
British Transport Secretary Douglas Alexander said London was “exploring the potential for dialogue with the Iranians” but gave no details.
Bush’s use of the term “hostages” evoked the storming of the U.S. embassy in Tehran after the 1979 Islamic revolution and the holding of 52 Americans for 444 days. Washington broke relations as a result.
“If they (Britain) continue their current path it won’t be long before we see another incident (like the storming of the U.S. embassy),” said Mahdi Boloukat, one of Sunday’s protesters and a student activist, told ISNA.