Students try to attack UK embassy in Tehran

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The Independent Online

Iranian students scuffled with riot police who kept them from attacking the British embassy in Tehran yesterday, while Iran's supreme leader accused the United States of acting in a "shameless" way and damaging an important Shia Muslim shrine in Iraq.



Iranian students scuffled with riot police who kept them from attacking the British embassy in Tehran yesterday, while Iran's supreme leader accused the United States of acting in a "shameless" way and damaging an important Shia Muslim shrine in Iraq.

In a day of rising frustration with the American and British occupation of Iraq, more than 500 students burned American, British and Israeli flags at the embassy and demanded that the British ambassador to Tehran be expelled.

"We want Muslim countries to cut relations with the United States and countries that helped it in occupying Iraq," a student, Ali Reza Zahedi, said. Before dispersing peacefully, the students called on the Iranian government to cut ties with Britain.

On Friday, American tanks made their deepest incursion yet into Najaf, Iraq, a stronghold of the Shia cleric Muqtada Sadr. Najaf is the site of one of Shia's holiest shrines, the Imam Ali mosque, whose dome was damaged during the fighting.

"Muslims can't tolerate the shameless incursion of American forces into sacred places," Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said in remarks carried by the official Islamic Republic News Agency (Irna). Mr Khamenei warned that Muslims, and Shias in particular, would react. "Definitely, Muslims and Shias in Iraq and other parts of the world won't remain silent toward this disrespect," Mr Khamenei said.

A former president of Iran, Hashemi Rafsanjani, also criticised Washington's handling of Iraq. "America is the record holder in making strategic blunders in the world... The biggest mistake of the United States now is in provoking tension and clashes in Shia-inhabited parts of Iraq," Irna quoted him as saying.

Mr Rafsanjani, still a powerful figure in Iran, said firing bullets at holy shrines in Iraq was tantamount to "targeting the hearts of millions of Muslims," and that "US actions will provoke riots."

On Saturday, leading Iranian clerics described the attacks in Najaf and Karbala, another holy city, as "matters of serious concern for all Shia Muslims." Predominantly Shia Iran is keenly interested in the security of the holy sites.

Calls for the British embassy to be shut down are not new. The US embassy was abandoned more than two decades ago, after the US and Iran had cut ties as a result of the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Mr Khamenei also said that abuse of Iraqi prisoners by US forces in Abu Ghraib prison was a "disgraceful brand on the forehead of Americans," warning that America will harvest for years the hatred it was spreading in Iraq now. He observed that the more America tries to move forward in Iraq the more it becomes bogged down.

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