x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Britain expels Iranian diplomats

Two Iranian diplomats are expelled from Britain as EU nations haul in ambassadors to express alarm over fresh post-election violence.

Britain expelled two Iranian diplomats today and European nations hauled in ambassadors to express alarm over fresh post-election violence on the streets of Tehran. The prime minister Gordon Brown announced the expulsion of two diplomats after Tehran ordered two British diplomats to leave. At least five EU countries called in Iranian envoys to protest over the Tehran government's crackdown but the United States against insisted it would not interfere in Iran's internal politics.

Mr Brown said Iran had taken "the unjustified step of expelling two British diplomats over allegations that are absolutely without foundation." "In response to that action we informed the Iranian ambassador earlier today that we would expel two Iranian diplomats from their embassy in London," he told lawmakers. France summoned Iran's envoy for the second time in a week to condemn what it called the "brutal repression" of protests.

A senior French foreign ministry official expressed "great concern with developments in Iran" and reiterated a demand that "full light be shed on the honesty of the presidential vote," said ministry spokesman, Frederic Desagneaux. "He reasserted our condemnation of the brutal repression of protests that have left many dead." The Czech Republic, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden also summoned Iranian envoys in their capitals.

A high-ranking Dutch foreign ministry official condemned "excessive violence" against protesters during a meeting with Iran's charge d'affaires, according to a ministry spokesman. The Czech government, which holds the rotating EU presidency, summoned Iran's representative in Prague on Monday and urged its partners to follow suit. Britain, Italy and Germany have warned their nationals against travelling to Iran, with London also pulling out the families of embassy staff.

Belgium urged the Iranian authorities to stop using violence against demonstrators. "If need be," the Belgian prime minister Herman van Rompuy said, Tehran should "authorise a complete vote recount". Groups opposed to president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad have staged almost daily rallies to protest at alleged fraud in the June 12 election which returned him to power. State media has said at least 17 people have been killed in the unrest that poses the most serious challenge to the Islamic government in 30 years.

Iranian authorities have in turn accused Western governments, particularly Britain and the United States, of meddling. The US president Barack Obama has been restrained in commenting on the Iran crisis and the White House was again cautious on Tuesday. "I think the world is watching. I think they have accomplished something. They've drawn attention to what's going on in Iran," spokesman Robert Gibbs told NBC. "I absolutely think we've seen the beginnings of change in Iran."

But asked whether Mr Obama would endorse an opposition-led general strike, he said: "We're not going to get involved in endorsing or not endorsing specific actions inside of Iran." The UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon has voiced growing concern about the violence and urged "an immediate stop to the arrests, threats and use of force." He appealed to the government and the opposition "to resolve peacefully their differences through dialogue and legal means."

Japan on Tuesday called for "a peaceful resolution" to the crisis. "Japan is extremely concerned about the casualties that have resulted from the protests," the foreign minister Hirofumi Nakasone said in a statement. "A situation that results in such victims should be avoided. Japan strongly requests a peaceful resolution. Japan believes that granting each opinion and view the appropriate amount of respect is essential."

Foreign media have been restricted in reporting the crisis, with bans on covering demonstrations, and some Western outlets have been accused of fomenting the violence and acting as the "mouthpiece of rioters." Despite the restrictions, images of police action have spread worldwide via amateur video over the internet. Footage of the final moments of Neda Agha-Soltan, a young woman whose death during the protests has made her an opposition icon, has been flashed around the world.