Britain has demanded the release of Iranian employees of the British embassy in Tehran and denied that the mission had been involved in any post-election unrest. "This is harassment and intimidation of a kind that is quite unacceptable," the British foreign secretary David Miliband told reporters during a security conference on the Greek island of Corfu. "We want to see (them) released unharmed." "These are hard-working diplomatic staff and 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."
Iran has arrested eight local British embassy staff, according to media reports, a move that will further exacerbate strained ties with the West over the post-election turmoil in the Islamic republic. It is the latest retaliatory action against Britain, which Iran has accused of stoking the unrest that swept the country after the disputed election that returned hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to power. "Eight members of the local staff at the British embassy who had a considerable role in the recent riots have been arrested," the Fars news agency said without quoting a source. Last week, the foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned that 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 and arrested a British-Greek journalist, as well as a number of other British passport-holders it says were involved in rioting. The latest backlash against the West came as opposition leaders in Iran kept up their defiance of the regime, rejecting a panel set up to hold a partial recount of ballots cast in the June 12 vote. Mir Hossein Mousavi, Mr Ahmadinejad's strongest rival, is still insisting on a new vote while another defeated candidate, Mehdi Karroubi, has demanded an independent panel to probe irregularities. Their defiance flies in the face of the nation's top political arbitration body the Expediency Council, which has urged all candidates to cooperate with the panel set up by the electoral watchdog the Guardians Council. The streets of Tehran appeared quiet today, with the authorities warning they would suppress any further protests over the vote that triggered the worst unrest since the 1979 Islamic revolution. Facing its biggest threat in 30 years, the Islamic regime has sought to quell the disquiet over the election results by ordering a partial recount. The Guardians Council, an unelected body of 12 jurists and clerics, said on Friday it would create a special committee of political figures and candidate representatives to recount 10 per cent of the ballots and draw up a report on the vote. But Mr Karroubi, a reformist former parliament speaker who came a distant fourth, said in a letter to the Guardians Council that a partial recount was "not enough" and called for an independent panel to probe "all aspects of the election". Mr Mousavi rejected the panel outright on Saturday, while the other defeated candidate, Mohsen Rezai, has agreed to be part of the panel if Mr Mousavi and Mr Karroubi also agree to nominate representatives to the body. But Mr Mousavi, who has spearheaded the massive public opposition to the vote, has demanded a rerun, refusing to be cowed by a persistent crackdown by the authorities against his supporters and even an aide turning against him. At least 17 people have been killed in clashes with security forces, according to state media. However, foreign media are banned from the streets under new restrictions imposed in the wake of the election. The authorities have also rounded up scores of reformist leaders, journalists and political activists, many of them Mr Mousavi's supporters, while a party office has been raided and his newspaper closed down. While Britain has been at the forefront of Iran's accusations of Western meddling, Mr Ahmadinejad on Saturday unleashed a new tirade against US President Barack Obama, saying: "He who spoke of reforms and changes, why did he interfere and comment in a way that disregards convention and courtesy?" On Friday, Mr Obama said Iran's "outrageous" crackdown on demonstrators would hit his hopes for direct talks with the Islamic republic after three decades of severed ties. "There is no doubt that any direct dialogue or diplomacy with Iran is going to be affected by the events of the last several weeks," Mr Obama said. *AFP and Reuters