Iran summoned the British ambassador yesterday after it accused him of “illegal and inappropriate” presence at anti-government demonstrations, deepening a diplomatic rift between the countries.
Rob Macaire denounced his detention on Saturday, which he said was “of course illegal”, adding that he had attended a vigil for victims of the Ukrainian Airlines crash, but left as protests broke out.
It came as Iran faced a second day of protests over the downing of the flight by the Iranian military, killing all 176 passengers, and initial denials by the regime.
Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the UK, suggested Mr Macaire should have heeded his own embassy’s warnings to “not be present in the proximity of political demonstrations in Tehran”.
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Seyed Abbas Araghchi, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, said Mr Macaire had been arrested as an “unknown foreigner in an illegal gathering” and “15 minutes later he was free”.
The arrest was condemned by both British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a “violation of international law”.
However, Britain, France and Germany issued a joint statement reiterating their support for the Iran nuclear deal.
Despite pressure from the US to withdraw from the non-proliferation agreement, the three countries said last night: “We remain committed to the JCPOA and to preserving it.”
Meanwhile scores of protesters gathered in Tehran to protest against the regime, despite the widespread presence of riot police just months after hundreds of protesters were killed in a crackdown on demonstrations.
Videos showed protesters shouting anti-government slogans, including: “They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here.”
One video circulated on social media appeared to show crowds of students at a Tehran university deliberately walking around American and Israeli flags painted on the floor in order to avoid stepping on them.
The protests began on Saturday after Iran’s admission that it had accidentally shot down the Ukrainian jet caused widespread public anger. Most of the passengers were Iranian citizens.
Tehran had previously denied responsibility for the tragedy, which it said came as the military was on high alert for US strikes in the wake of the assassination of Major General Qasem Soleimani.
A report from the London-based Iran International television suggested Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had deliberately allowed civilian air traffic to use the airport as a deterrence against any US attack.
Crowds gathered outside a university in central Tehran on Saturday to denounce the IRGC, the elite military force under the authority of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Kahmenei.
The students shouted, “Death to the dictator,” and “End your rule over the country.” Riot police fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse the protests.
Donald Trump voiced his support for pro-democracy demonstrators in Iran by tweeting in Farsi over the weekend. In one tweet, he said: “To the brave and suffering Iranian people: I have stood with you since the beginning of my presidency and my government will continue to stand with you. We are following your protests closely. Your courage is inspiring.”
Yesterday, he warned Iranian leaders not to kill protesters, saying “the world is watching”.
But in the US, an ABC News/Ipsos poll showed that 56pc of voters disapproved of the president’s handling of Iran, with 52pc saying that the airstrike which killed Soleimani had made the US less safe.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the shooting down of the plane was a “disastrous mistake” and apologised. But a top Revolutionary Guards commander added to public fury when he said he had told authorities on the same day as the crash an Iranian missile struck the plane.
While both Tehran and Washington have backed off from intensifying their conflict, the leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia called yesterday for Tehran’s allies to begin working to avenge Mr Soleimani’s killing. Retaliation would happen in the “coming days, weeks and months”, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said.
Last night, rockets hit an Iraqi airbase north of Baghdad where US forces have been based, wounding four local troops. Bases hosting US troops have been subject to attacks in recent months that have mostly wounded Iraqi forces, but also killed one American contractor last month, setting off the developments of recent weeks. (© Daily Telegraph London)
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