Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 31 August 2014

Iranians storm British Embassy

Iranian protesters chanting slogans, as they stand on the gate of the British Embassy, in Tehran (AP)
An Iranian cleric spray paints graffiti on the inside wall of the British Embassy in Tehran (AP)

Hard-line Iranian students have stormed the British Embassy in Tehran, tearing down the Union Flag and throwing documents from windows in scenes reminiscent of the anger against Western powers after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

The mob moved into the diplomatic compound two days after Iran's parliament approved a bill that reduces diplomatic relations with Britain following London's support of recently upgraded Western sanctions on Tehran over its disputed nuclear program.

The protesters broke through after clashing with anti-riot police and chanting for its takeover. "Death to England," some cried in the first significant assault of a foreign diplomatic area in Iran in years. Smoke rose from some areas of the embassy grounds and the British flag was replaced with a banner in the name of 7th century Shiite saint, Imam Hussein.

Less than two hours after the incident began, police appeared to regain control of the site. But the official IRNA news agency said about 300 protesters entered the British ambassador's residence in another part of the city and replaced British flags with Iranian ones.

The occupiers called for the closure of the embassy calling it a "spy den" - the same phrase used after militants stormed the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 hostages for 444 days. Washington and Tehran have no diplomatic relations since then.

The rally outside the British Embassy - on a main street in Tehran - included protesters carrying photographs of nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, who was killed last year in an attack that Iran blamed on Israeli and British spy services. Outside the embassy, students from some universities and seminaries burned British flags as they clashed with police.

Tensions with Britain date back to the 19th century when the Persian monarchy gave huge industrial concessions to London, which later included significant control over Iran's oil industry.

But they have become increasingly strained as the West accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons - a charge Tehran denies.

In recent years, Iran was angered by Britain's decision in 2007to honour author Salman Rushdie with a knighthood. Rushdie went into hiding after Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini issued a 1989 fatwa, or religious edict, ordering Muslims to kill the author because his novel "The Satanic Verses" allegedly insulted Islam.

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