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Iranian protesters break the windows of a British Embassy building, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011.
Iranian protesters break the windows of a British Embassy building, in Tehran, Iran, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011.
Image: Vahid Salemi/AP/Press Association Images

UK withdraws diplomatic staff attack on Tehran embassy

British diplomatic staff in Iran have been withdrawn following an attack on its embassy in Tehran yesterday – during which protesters shouting “Death to England” smashed windows, burned British flags and set a car alight.
Nov 30th 2011, 8:48 AM 1,139 16

BRITAIN IS WITHDRAWING diplomatic staff from Iran following an attack on its embassy in Tehran yesterday.

Hundreds of anti-British protesters stormed the embassy building and residential compound, smashing widows, burning representations of the British flag, setting a car alight and shouting “Death to England”.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has strongly condemned the incident and warned that there will be “serious consequences” for the attack, reports the BBC. All embassy staff are safe and accounted for, Cameron said, however British officials were still attempting to discover the whereabouts of “locally engaged security staff” to ensure their well-being.

The protesters were reacting to Britain’s recent decision to impose further economic sanctions on Iran over its disputed nuclear programme, according to the New York Times.

The attack was reminiscent of the attack on the US embassy in 1979 after the Iranian Revolution, which was also preceded by increasingly strained ties between Iran and Western powers.

On Sunday, Iran’s parliament approved a bill to downgrade relations with Britain.

Call for all ties to be cut

Police eventually managed to expel the protesters from the building – but the demonstrators vowed to continue protesting until Iran cut all ties with Britain, reports Fars. Protesters pointed to “Britain’s companionship with the United States’ lies and warmongering moves and polices against Iran, specially on the country’s nuclear program, and its war rhetoric and threats of a military strike in recent weeks accompanied by bold sanctions on the Central Bank of Iran”.

Iran’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has expressed regret over the attack, describing the behaviour of some protesters as “unacceptable” and promising to take necessary measures through legal channels and relevant authorities against those responsible. In a statement, the Ministry reiterated “the commitment of the Government of the Islamic Republic of Iran to safeguard and protect the diplomatic places and personnel. ”

Sorting out who to blame may be difficult, however.

The late-afternoon demonstration outside the embassy was organised by pro-government groups at universities and Islamic seminaries, and could not have taken place without official sanction, reports the Associated Press. However, such anti-Western rallies often draw ultraconservative factions such as the basiji, a paramilitary group run by the powerful Revolutionary Guard that is directly controlled by Iran’s ruling theocracy.

Riot police initially clashed with mobs in attempts to hold them back, but protesters surged past cordons and scaled the walls at the embassy complex, which they pelted with petrol bombs and stones. Flames shot out of a sport utility vehicle parked outside the brick building and occupiers tossed papers apparently looted from an office.

Protesters called for the closure of the embassy and called it a “spy den” — the same phrase used after militants stormed the US Embassy in Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and held 52 hostages for 444 days. In the early moments of that siege, protesters tossed out papers from the compound and pulled down the US flag. Washington and Tehran have had no diplomatic relations since then.

David Cameron is due to make a speech on the matter later today. Meanwhile, British nationals in Iran have been advised to stay indoors and keep a low profile.

Additional reporting by the AP

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Jennifer Wade


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