TEHRAN // Britain said it was “outraged” by the storming of its embassy and its Gulhak Garden compound in Tehran by Iranian protesters, deeming it “utterly unacceptable”.
A Foreign Office spokesman urged the Iranian government to “act urgently to bring the situation under control”, citing its duty under international law to protect diplomats and embassies as dozens of students brought down the mission’s flag and threw documents from windows in scenes reminiscent of the anger against western powers after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
"There has been an incursion by a significant number of demonstrators into our embassy premises, including vandalism to our property," the spokesman said, adding that the situation remained "fluid" and details were still emerging.
"We are outraged by this. It is utterly unacceptable and we condemn it," he said in a statement.
"Under international law, including the Vienna Convention, the Iranian government have a clear duty to protect diplomats and embassies in their country and we expect them to act urgently to bring the situation under control and ensure the safety of our staff and security of our property."
France also condemned the incursion by protesters, and the "unacceptable damage done there", Alain Juppe, the foreign minister, said.
"France holds the Iranian authorities responsible for the integrity of all diplomatic missions in Tehran," Juppe said in a statement.
"Once more, the Iranian regime has shown what little consideration it has for international law. France denounces this flagrant and outrageous violation of the Vienna Convention" on diplomatic relations.
The protesters moved into the diplomatic compound two days after Iran’s parliament approved a bill that reduces diplomatic relations with Britain following London’s support of recently upgraded western sanctions on Tehran over its disputed nuclear programme.
The protesters broke through after clashing with anti-riot police and chanting for its takeover. “Death to England,” some cried in the first significant assault of a foreign diplomatic area in Iran in years.
The protesters were also shown live on Iranian state television throwing stones at embassy windows, breaking them, and one was seen climbing the wall with a looted portrait of Britain's Queen Elizabeth II.
Outside the embassy's walls, several hundred other demonstrators were gathered, demanding the British ambassador leave the country immediately.
Britain has threatened to act "robustly" if Iran's foreign ministry follows through by kicking out its ambassador, Dominick Chilcott, who only took up his post last month.
There was no immediate word on casualties or how many embassy employees were inside at the time of the assault, although it occurred after business hours had ended. More protesters poured into the compound as police tried to clear the site.
Smoke rose from some areas of the embassy grounds and the British flag. The occupiers called for the closure of the embassy calling it a “spy den” – the same phrase used after militants stormed the US embassy in Tehran in 1979 and held 52 hostages for 444 days. Washington and Tehran have had no diplomatic relations since then.
The rally outside the British Embassy — on a main street in Tehran — included protesters carrying photographs of nuclear scientist Majid Shahriari, who was killed last year in an attack that Iran blamed on Israeli and British spy services.
State TV reported that another group of hard-line students gathered at the gate of British ambassador’s residence in northern Tehran, at the same time. Last week, the Tehran municipality fined Britain US$1.23 million (Dh4.5m) for cutting down trees in its Gulhak Garden compound.
Tensions with Britain date back to the 19th century when the Persian monarchy gave industrial concessions to London, which later included significant control over Iran’s oil industry.
But they have become increasingly strained as the West accuses Iran of trying to develop nuclear weapons — a charge Tehran denies.