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News | Protesters Storm UK Embassy in Tehran

29 Nov 2011 18:22Comments

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Press Roundup provides a selected summary of news from the Farsi and Arabic press and excerpts where the source is in English. Tehran Bureau has not verified these stories and does not vouch for their accuracy. Any views expressed are the authors' own. Please refer to the Media Guide to help put the stories in perspective. You can follow breaking news stories on our Twitter feed.

Iran Standard Time (IRST), GMT+3:30

13900908201425_PhotoA.jpg11:00 p.m., 8 Azar/November 29 From our correspondent in Tehran:
They attacked both the Qolhak Garden [where embassy personnel live] and the embassy compound at the same time. There were around 300 so-called students. While they tried to suggest it was spontaneous -- and none of the websites I checked had discussed such a gathering for today -- the fact that they had Molotov cocktails, banners and photos of martyrs suggest otherwise. I also strongly believe that they were not all students. They stormed the embassy and grabbed whatever evidence they could and tossed it out of the building. In the process they apparently found pictures of the shah in the embassy, according to Fars news.

The students who they are claiming found the "evidence" have never experienced the Shah era and for them the Shah era is just a story. The photo suggests the people who orchestrated the takeover wanted to influence not just a bunch of 20-year-olds. Plus, they [Guardian Council] decided to expel the British envoy yesterday, so the demands that caused them to storm the embassy had already been met.

Police were on the scene and allegedly tried to disperse the crowd and get them out of the embassy but the fact that it took a good few hours means they weren't doing much and actually wanted the "students" there.

Mehr news agency was the first to run the story that six people had been taken hostage, but quickly removed the report from its website. The only other Iranian news outlet that ran with the story was Jahan news, which is affiliated with the IRGC. According to Press TV, "police said all foreign nationals in the compound are under protection of security forces," meaning there could be hostages but that those who seized them were not angry students.

I wouldn't be surprised if officials tried to dig up the April 1980 takeover of the embassy of the Islamic Republic in London as a justification for what happened. (Update: Not far off the mark: Fars News Agency just published this, inferring Iranian police handled the situation in Tehran better than the British police dealt with comparable events in London.)

Coming full circle...

The White House released this statement on the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran:

The United States condemns in the strongest terms the storming of the British Embassy in Tehran. Iran has a responsibility to protect the diplomatic missions present in its country and the personnel stationed at them. We urge Iran to fully respect its international obligations, to condemn the incident, to prosecute the offenders, and to ensure that no further such incidents take place either at the British Embassy or any other mission in Iran. Our State Department is in close contact with the British government and we stand ready to support our allies at this difficult time.
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As The New York Times reported, today's "images evoked memories of the siege of the American Embassy following the Iranian revolution of 1979." The video above is actually not from the November 4, 1979 seizure, but one that took place on Wednesday, February 14, 1979.

10:00 p.m., 8 Azar/November 29 Our columnist Muhammad Sahimi compiled the following items from the Iranian press:

Chanting "Death to England!" Iranian Majles deputies passed legislation Sunday to downgrade diplomatic and commercial relations with Britain. (It was approved by the Guardian Council on Monday.) In a provocative dispatch, Fars News Agency, which is run by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, asked, "What is the difference between the British Embassy and the nest of spies," a reference to the U.S. Embassy in Tehran that was overrun by Islamic leftist students on November 4, 1979. The Fars report accused the British embassy of having played a major role in provoking large-scale demonstrations in the aftermath of the 2009 presidential election.

Fars also applauded the move to downgrade relations with Britain and declared, "Does tolerating 'spy homes' [embassies] of some countries not have any limit?" In effect, Fars and by extension the Revolutionary Guards, set the stage for attacking the British embassy.

The sources of the Islamic Republic's anger with Britain run much deeper than the recently announced round of sanctions. Aside from the incontrovertible facts and widely held suspicions about the British role in Iran since the late 19th century -- in particular, its part in the 1953 coup that toppled the democratically elected government of Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh and thwarted the nationalization of the Iranian oil industry -- the Islamic Republic has been at odds with the British government ever since the 1979 Revolution, accusing it, for example, of siding with Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War that lasted from 1980 to 1988. The fatwa that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued on February 14, 1989, calling for the death of British novelist Salman Rushdie in retribution for his novel The Satanic Verses only exacerbated the tension. More recent episodes that have led to further deterioration in relations between the two countries include:

* On March 23, 2007, Iranian armed forces captured 15 British military personnel -- eight sailors and seven Royal Marines. They were taken from HMS Cornwall, which while conducting a search of a merchant vessel was surrounded by the naval forces of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. The British forces claimed that the vessel was in Iraqi waters, but the Iranian side insisted that they were in Iran's territorial waters. The detainees were held for almost two weeks. On April 4, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad held a news conference to announce their release, stating: "On the occasion of the birthday of the great prophet, and for the occasion of the passing of Christ, I say the Islamic Republic government and the Iranian people -- with all powers and legal right to put the soldiers on trial -- forgave those 15. This pardon is a gift to the British people." A year later, a British investigation report was released that stated that the area in which the incident took place was not covered by any formal agreement between Iran and Iraq. During the presidential debates in June 2009, it was revealed that the Islamic Republic released the seamen in response to a British ultimatum with a 48-hour deadline.

* On June 19, 2009, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei described Britain as the "most evil" Western nation, accusing it of sending spies into Iran to stir emotions during the presidential elections. The British Government summoned the Iranian ambassador Rasul Movaheddian to the Foreign Office to protest the speech. In retaliation, Iran expelled two British diplomats from the country, accusing them of "activities inconsistent with their diplomatic status." On June 23, the British retaliated by expelling two Iranian diplomats from the United Kingdom. Then British Prime Minister Gordon Brown stated that he was unhappy at having to make the move, but suggested there was no option after what he described as "unjustified" actions by Iran. The following day, Iran's then Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced that the country was considering "downgrading" its ties with Britain.

* Around the same time the British government froze an account that was said to be in the name of Mojtaba Khamenei, the Supreme Leader's son, who wields considerable power behind the scenes. The revelation of the existence of the account, which reportedly contained close to $1.6 billion, was deeply embarrassing to the hardliners, who present Khamenei's family as pious and incorruptible.

* Nosratollah Tajik, a former Iranian ambassador to Jordan, has been held in Britain for several years under house arrest. He has been accused of breaking U.S. laws governing the arms embargo against Iran by trying to export night vision goggles to the Islamic Republic. Tajik has denied the charges and professed his innocence. Iran has repeatedly tried to secure his release and return, without success. It was announced on November 11 that the British government would extradite Tajik to the United States "as soon as possible." He may have considerable knowledge about Iran's efforts to acquire various technologies for its domestic arms industry, and the Islamic Republic is presumably concerned that he may reveal such information to U.S. authorities if he is extradited. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, chairman of the Majles National Security and Foreign Policy Commission, said on Monday that extradition "would constitute another hostile move against Iran by London." Iran claims that Tajik suffers from chronic ailments and psychological problems.

* Former British Prime Minister Tony Blair has repeatedly used tough language in his comments on the Islamic Republic and the danger that he believes the Tehran regime poses to the Middle East. He has spoken about the conditions under which the West should attack Iran militarily, and he has said on numerous occasions that the West must prepare to launch such an attack if Iran does not give up its nuclear program.

* Iran, in turn, has also used the language of war to counter the sort of stance articulated by Blair. In 2008, Wahid Karimi, then head of the European and U.S. departments in the Iranian Foreign Ministry, suggested that Iran should target London to deter an attack by Britain and/or the United States. Karimi said that an attack on London was "the most appropriate means of deterrence that Iran has, in addition to a retaliatory operation in the [Persian Gulf] region." This was at the height of tensions between the George W. Bush administration and the Tehran regime, when there was much talk of a possible military strike on Iran.

* The British Broadcasting Corporation's launch of a Farsi television channel generated a whole new set of strains. Many of the people involved are Iranian journalists living in exile. They are intimately familiar with the political scene in Iran, have strong networks of contacts to, and can accurately analyze political developments. The channel has so angered the hardliners that it is now a crime in Iran to work as a BBC correspondent, and the Islamic Republic propaganda machine has been attacking the network relentlessly.

* A deeply unflattering BBC documentary about Khamenei's life and style of governance, which calls him "unremarkable," caused particular outrage among the hardliners when it first aired in September. The documentary describes him as possessing power as absolute as that wielded by Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi did in the 1960s and 1970s. It documents his transformation from a relatively progressive cleric in his youth and during the revolutionary era to today's stubborn dictator, willing to defy the nation to make sure that Ahmadinejad served a second term as the president. It also describes the mounting power struggle between the two men. After its debut, several Iranian documentary filmmakers were arrested by the Ministry of Intelligence and accused of collaborating with the BBC on its production.

8:20 p.m., 8 Azar/November 29 From our Tehran correspondent back in May 2010:

Relations between Iran and Britain have long been strained, and the Islamic Republic has been in the habit of pinning the blame for anything that goes wrong in the country on the British. In response to last year's election results, British officials made a series of comments that Tehran interpreted as meddling in its internal affairs. Iran retaliated by expelling the BBC's Tehran correspondent as well as arresting a British-Greek journalist, nine British embassy employees, and a number of other British passport holders said to have been involved in rioting.

In February, President Ahmadinejad said that Iran was left with no choice but to limit relations with Britain due to its unwelcome intrusions. Lawmaker Parviz Sarvari told Fars News Agency, "The nation's tolerance for Britain's hidden and apparent policy of interference is over. The Iranian nation and its parliament could no longer tolerate this behavior." He declared that "there would be a crushing response by Iran."

Using the British as the face of "the enemy," who is constantly conspiring to lead Islamic Republic officials astray and force them into defection has repeatedly proven an effective tool in diverting attention and restoring the balance of power. Expect more of the same.

#Iran's Fars news headlines interesting: 'students won't back down...' then, #UK 'embassy cleared of students' bit.ly/vpr1Ou

7 p.m., 8 Azar/November 29 Citing IRGC-affiliated Fars News, BBC Persian says #Iran police freed 6 hostages in takeover of British Embassy in Tehran.

7 p.m., 8 Azar/November 29 Citing #Iran govt news sites, BBC Persian reporting #Iran protestors removed documents from #UK embassy and disrupted satellites there.

Photos

These photos are purportedly from the UK Embassy takeover today in Tehran:

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Videos

Iran's Press TV is referring to the takeover as a "rally." "Some protestors tried to storm into the embassy compound," it said, "but police stopped them."


Background

According to the BBC,

Protesters in the Iranian capital, Tehran, have broken into the UK embassy compound during a demonstration against sanctions imposed by Britain.

Militant students are said to have removed the British flag, burnt it and replaced it with Iran's flag. State TV showed youths smashing embassy windows.

The move comes after Iran resolved to reduce ties following the UK's decision to impose further sanctions on it.

On Sunday, Iran's Majles (parliament) passed a bill to downgrade diplomatic ties with the UK in response to economic sanctions imposed over Iran's nuclear program. The Guardian had this report:

Iran's parliament has voted to expel the British ambassador in Tehran in retaliation against economic sanctions imposed by the west over the Islamic republic's disputed nuclear programme.

Iranian MPs on Sunday passed a bill that in effect gave President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's government two weeks to expel the ambassador, Dominick Chilcott.

The bill, which also requires Iran's economic and trade links with the UK to be reduced, has yet to be approved by the Guardian Council, the powerful body of clerics and lawyers that vets parliamentary activity.

If the bill comes into effect, diplomatic relations between Tehran and London will be downgraded from ambassadorial level to that of chargé d'affaires and Chilcott - who took up his post only a few weeks ago - will have to leave Tehran. Iran's embassy in London had been operating without an ambassador for several months.

This dispute has been brewing for some time now. Last week the UAE's National newspaper reported on a dispute over the British compound's trees:

The compound's British "occupiers" have been accused of environmental vandalism after they allegedly cut down and burnt more than 300 trees. Tehran municipality officials said this week they have slapped the British embassy with a US$1.23 million (Dh4.5m) fine for the "crime".

Britain insists no healthy trees were felled. But it had to remove a "small number" that died of "natural causes and become dangerously unstable" after the compound's water supply was disrupted by the extension of the Tehran Metro nearly three years ago.

The embassy has been working with the Iranian authorities, including the Tehran Municipality, "to re-establish a water supply as a matter of urgency to ensure that any environmental damage is kept to a minimum", a spokesperson for the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) said.

Even so, Tehran's mayor, Mohammad Bagher Qalibaf, announced at the end of last month that he is going to court in an attempt to reclaim the Gulhak compound. He insists the British embassy has no legal right to the prime real estate.

Official Fars news photos:

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Copyright © 2011
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