TEHRAN // A prominent Iranian cleric has sharply criticised the storming of the British embassy in Tehran by hundreds of pro-regime protesters, calling the attack "illegal," media reports said yesterday.
"I explicitly say that I am against attacking embassies and occupying them," Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.
"Attacking an embassy and occupying it is like invading a country and is illegal," said the cleric, who is close to Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Mr Khatami stated, however, that "we must not compare" the storming of the British embassy with the 1979 taking of the US embassy in Tehran, which resulted in US-Iranian diplomatic ties being broken off entirely.
His comments were the strongest reaction yet to the coordinated incursions of Britain's embassy and a second diplomatic compound in Tehran on Tuesday by hundreds of pro-regime protesters.
Iranian officials have asserted that the protesters acted spontaneously in anger at Britain slapping new sanctions on Iran's financial sector over Tehran's controversial nuclear programme.
Another senior cleric, Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, on Saturday said it was possible that "elements" had infiltrated the protesters to prompt the backlash against Iran. Iran's regime, however, has been mixing defiance with defensiveness.
Parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, notably, has defended the embassy protesters, saying their action was understandable given anger over "the domineering policy" of Britain.