British embassy in Iran attacked

 

Hard-line Iranian students stormed the British Embassy in Tehran today, 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.

There was no immediate word on casualties or how many embassy employees were inside at the time of the assault, although it occurred after business hours had ended. More protesters poured into the compound as police tried to clear the site.

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.

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.

State TV reported that another group of hard-line students gathered at the gate of British ambassador's residence in northern Tehran, at the same time.

Tensions with Britain date back to the 19th century when the Persian monarchy gave huge industrial concessions to London, which later included significant control overIran'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 2007 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.

The decision shortly after Iran detained 15 British sailors and marines in March 2007 for allegedly entering the country's territorial waters in the Persian Gulf - a claim Britain denies. The 15 were released after nearly two weeks in captivity.

In 2006, angry mobs burned the Danish flag and attacked Danish and other Western embassies in Tehran in protest to the reprinting of a cartoon deemed insulting of the Prophet Muhammad in the Nordic country's newspapers.

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