Iran blames Britain after bombings hit border town

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The Independent Online

Friction between London and Tehran rose to new heights after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad accused Britain of involvement in bomb attacks that killed at least nine people in Ahvaz, in Iran's predominantly Arab province of Khuzestan.

The accusations are the latest to fly between the two countries, which have come into confrontation over the presence of British troops in southern Iraq and Iran's nuclear programme. European diplomatic efforts to report Iran to the UN Security Council over its suspected nuclear weapons programme are gathering pace, with talks scheduled in London on Monday.

"Traces of the occupiers of Iraq is evident in the Ahvaz events. They should take responsibility in this regard," said Mr Ahmadinejad in comments reported by state television. The Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Britain "equipped and directed" the attackers.

A Downing Street spokesman said the charge was "ludicrous". He added: "Putting the blame on us rather than on the terrorists responsible underlines why there is such widespread international concern about this Iranian government, especially after its repugnant statements on Israel and the Holocaust." In November, London accused Iran of supplying insurgents with explosive devices that had killed British soldiers in southern Iraq, directly across the Shatt al-Arab waterway from Iran's Khuzestan province. Tuesday's bombs also injured 46 people in Ahvaz, after detonating in a bank and a government office.

Bomb attacks during Iran's June presidential election and in October killed 14 people in Ahwaz. In April, ethnic Arabs rioted after rumours the government planned to make the province more Persian. Iranian officials have linked Britain to those events, although Arab separatists have been held more directly responsible.

In June 2004, Iran seized eight British servicemen, saying their boat had crossed the Shatt al-Arab waterway into Iranian waters. The men were held for only eight days but their boats and navigation equipment, which would have detailed their exact location when arrested, were never returned.

Hardline students frequently demonstrate outside the British embassy in Tehran, protesting against London's stance over Iran's nuclear programme.

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