Page last updated at 12:11 GMT, Sunday, 28 June 2009 13:11 UK

UK fury as staff arrested in Iran

David Miliband: "Harassment and intimidation"

The UK has demanded the immediate release of Iranian staff at its Tehran embassy who were arrested on Saturday.

Iranian media earlier reported that eight local staff at the mission had been detained for their "considerable role" in post-election riots.

UK Foreign Secretary David Miliband called the arrests "harassment" and dismissed the allegations as baseless.

Relations between the countries are strained after Tehran accused the UK of stoking unrest, which London denies.

Iran has repeatedly accused foreign powers - especially Britain and the US - of stoking the unrest that swept the country after the 12 June election, which handed President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad a decisive victory.

In the fallout of the crisis, Tehran expelled two British diplomats in the past week, and the UK has responded with a similar measure.

Strained relations

Mr Miliband said about nine employees had been detained in total, but some had been released.

Iranian hardline students protest outside the British embassy in Tehran, 23 June
Tehran has blamed the US and UK for post-election unrest

"We are still concerned about a number of them who to our knowledge have not been released... The numbers are changing hour by hour," he said on the sidelines of a European security meeting on the Greek island of Corfu.

"The idea that the British Embassy is somehow behind the demonstrations and protests that have been taking place in Tehran in recent weeks is wholly without foundation," he added.

A strong protest had been made directly to the Iranian authorities, but there had been no response.

Mr Miliband said he would discuss the arrests with his European Union colleagues.

"All European countries have made clear that they want to stand together in standing up for the diplomatic principles that are important for our diplomatic activity all over the world," he said.

The arrests were first reported by Iran's semi-official Fars news agency.

"Eight local employees at the British embassy who had a considerable role in recent unrest were taken into custody," Fars said, without giving a source.

Some 17 people are thought to have died in street protests after the disputed presidential poll, which the opposition complains was rigged.

Poll verdict

Meanwhile, Iran's powerful Guardian Council was due to give its verdict on the result of the disputed presidential election.

Jeremy Bowen
Jeremy Bowen
BBC News, Tehran

Iran's response to criticism from abroad of the violent response to the demonstrations has been to blame foreign powers for inciting and orchestrating violence. Britain has been singled out as the country most responsible for what has happened, aided by the BBC.

On Saturday President Ahmadinejad made a strong speech about what Iran claims has been foreign interference in the election. He said that his new government would have a more decisive and powerful approach towards the west.

The arrests fit into a pattern of deteriorating relations between Britain and Iran. Two British diplomats were expelled last week, and the British retaliated by expelling two Iranians from their embassy in London. It was never certain that would be the end of the matter.

But the BBC's Jeremy Bowen in Tehran says there is much politicking taking place behind the scenes, and that the five-day deadline for the Guardian Council to return its verdict may be extended.

Our correspondent says there is an attempt to form a committee - including the disappointed presidential candidates - to oversee the recount of 10% of the votes, a move which they are resisting.

Another parliamentary committee is holding discussions with the grand ayatollahs in an attempt from pro-Ahmadinejad forces to put on a show of unity, he adds.

But opposition leader Mir Hossein Mousavi has not backed away from his claim that the election result was fraudulent, and has refused to support the Guardian Council's plan for a partial recount.

Mr Mousavi has been calling for a full re-run of the vote, but said on Saturday that he would accept a review by an independent body.

However the Guardian Council has already defended President Ahmadinejad's re-election, saying on Friday that the presidential poll was the "healthiest" since the Iranian revolution in 1979.

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