Iran has summoned the UK ambassador as hardline militia members mass outside the British embassy in Tehran.
The British ambassador to Iran earlier denied taking part in anti-government demonstrations after he was held by Iranian authorities during protests over a fatal plane crash.
Iranian authorities detained Rob Macaire on Saturday on suspicion of organising, provoking and directing radical actions.
To the leaders of Iran – DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 12, 2020
But an Iranian news agency has now said that the ambassador has been summoned over his attendance at an “anti-government rally”.
It comes as Iran’s Basij militia, which is affiliated with Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guard, is massing outside the UK embassy in Tehran demanding it be closed, according to Iranian state media.
Meanwhile, riot police and plainclothes officers have moved into Tehran’s Vali e Asr Square in large numbers amid calls for further anti-government protests.
That prompted US president Donald Trump to tweet: “To the leaders of Iran – DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!”
More from Iran
On Saturday, riot police fired tear gas at thousands of Iranians who had taken to the streets to direct their anger at Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, hours after the country’s Revolutionary Guard admitted shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane near the capital.
Security minister calls on Iran to ‘de-escalate situation’
UK Ambassador Rob Macaire said he visited the scene to take part in a vigil for the 176 victims who died when Iran brought down Ukrainian International Airlines flight PS752 on Wednesday with a missile it said was fired in error.
Mr Macaire tweeted in Farsi and in English: “Thanks for the many goodwill messages. Can confirm I wasn’t taking part in any demonstrations! Went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of #PS752 tragedy.
“Normal to want to pay respects – some of victims were British. I left after 5 mins, when some started chanting.
“Detained half an hour after leaving the area. Arresting diplomats is of course illegal, in all countries.”
The largest share of the 176 people aboard the flight who died were Iranians, many with dual citizenship, 57 were Canadian and four were British.
Later on Sunday, deputy foreign minister of Iran Seyed Abbas Araghchi responded, also on Twitter.
He said: “He wasn’t detained, but arrested as unknown foreigner in an illegal gathering. When police informed me a man’s arrested who claims to be UK Amb, I said IMPOSSIBLE! only after my phone conversation w him I identified, out of big surprise, that it’s him. 15 min later he was free.”
In 2011, amid a low point in relations between the UK and Iran, a crowd of Iranian protesters stormed the embassy ransacking offices, causing a major diplomatic rift.
UK security minister Brandon Lewis told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday that the government was calling on Iran to co-operate with investigations and to de-escalate tensions.
Earlier today, a large black banner was unveiled in Vali e Asr Square bearing names of those who died in the crash.
Overnight, Iranian protesters and newspapers piled pressure on the country’s leadership.
Image: Iranians protest after their government admited shooting down a Ukrainian jet
Iran’s moderate Etemad newspaper wrote in a banner headline on Sunday “Apologise and resign”, adding the “people’s demand” was that all those responsible for mishandling the plane crisis should quit.
Ayatollah Khamenei, the highest authority in the country, expressed “deep sympathy” to the victims of the plane crash on Saturday but did not apologise, leaving that to other senior officials.
Some officials laid the blame partly at the door of the US, after it heightened US-Iran tensions by assassinating one of Iran’s top generals Qassem Suleimani.
Trump ‘inspired by courage’ of Iranian protesters
The US had previously withdrawn from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers and then re-imposed sanctions that have gradually crippled the Iranian economy.
A commander in the Revolutionary Guard said an air defence operator had mistaken the Ukrainian passenger jet for a cruise missile after Iran retaliated for the airstrike on Gen Solemani by hitting US bases in the region.
While the commander apologised, he added to public anger by saying he told the authorities on the day of the crash a missile hit the plane – three days before the military admitted they had shot it down.
Another moderate daily newspaper, Jomhuri ye Eslami, wrote in an editorial: “Those who delayed publishing the reason behind the plane crash and damaged people’s trust in the establishment should be dismissed or should resign.”
Image: Demonstrators chanted ‘death to the dictator’ during the protest
Criticism of the authorities in Iran is not unheard of, but it tends to stay within narrow limits.
The latest protests come weeks after Iran faced the country’s bloodiest unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution, with dozens said to have been killed.
Saturday’s demonstrations were not limited to Tehran, with major cities such as Shiraz, Isfahan, Hamedan and Orumiyeh seeing similar action on the streets.
Source : Sky News