TEHRAN – Iran has arrested eight local British embassy staff, triggering London’s fury and further exacerbating tensions with the West over the post-election turmoil.
The latest backlash against what Iranian leaders have said is foreign “meddling” came as opposition leaders continued to defy the regime, rejecting a panel set up to hold a partial recount in the hotly-disupted presidential vote.
Iran has repeatedly accused Britain and the United States of stoking the unrest that swept the country after the June 12 election that returned Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power amid complaints it was rigged.
The Fars news agency said the eight staff members were arrested for having a “considerable role” in the riots.
British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said London had protested strongly to Tehran over the arrests, which he described as “harassment and intimidation of a kind which is quite unacceptable.”
He said the release of the staff was Britain’s “top priority” and dismissed claims the embassy was behind the demonstrations as “wholly without foundation.”
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei added fuel to the fire, accusing European and American officials of making “idiotic comments” about Iran, state television reported.
Last week, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned Iran may downgrade ties with Britain after the two governments expelled diplomats in a tit-for-tat move.
Iran has also expelled the BBC correspondent in Tehran, arrested a British-Greek journalist, and accused a number of other British passport-holders of involvement in riots.
Against the diplomatic tensions, Iranian opposition leaders continue to challenge the regime, rejecting a panel set up by the Guardians Council to hold a partial recount.
Both Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi are demanding a new vote. – Agencies
because of what they say are widespread irregularities.
The Guardians Council, an unelected body of 12 jurists and clerics, said it would create a committee of political figures and candidate representatives to recount 10 percent of the ballots and draw up a report on the vote.
But Karroubi, a reformist former parliament speaker who came a distant fourth, said in a letter to the Council that a partial recount was “not enough” and called for an independent panel to probe “all aspects of the election.” Mousavi rejected the panel outright Saturday, while the other defeated candidate, Mohsen Rezai, has agreed to be part of the committee. – Agencies