2nd embassy crisis in Iran after 32 years

Iranian protesters storm the British compounds in Tehran in a confrontation over Iran’s nuclear program reminding of scenes from the seizing of US mission in 1979.

Iranian students stormed British diplomatic sites in Tehran yesterday, bringing down the Union Jack flag, burning an embassy vehicle and throwing documents from windows in scenes reminiscent of the seizing of the U.S. compound in 1979.

The group surged past riot police into the British Embassy complex which they pelted with petrol bombs and stones 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 program. Flames shot out of a sport utility vehicle parked outside the brick building. Demonstrators outside the embassy also burned British flags and clashed with police as the rally, which had been organized by student groups at universities and seminaries. Less than two hours later, police appeared to regain control of the site. But the official IRNA news agency said about 300 protesters entered the British ambassador’s residence in another part of the city and replaced British flags with Iranian ones. The British Foreign Office harshly denounced the melee and said Iran has a “clear duty” under international law to protect diplomats and offices. “We are outraged by this,” said the statement. Britain’s Foreign Office said it was in contact with embassy officials. It also warned its citizens in Iran to “stay inside and keep a low profile.”

The situation there was not immediately clear. The state news agency IRNA said the protesters had foreigners there in their control -- that they were described as “protecting.” The semiofficial Mehr news agency said embassy staff had left the compound before the mobs entered, but it also said those who occupied the area had taken six staff as hostages. The report was later removed from the website without elaboration. The protesters broke through after clashing with anti-riot police and chanting for its takeover. Iranian police on Tuesday secured the release of six employees of the British embassy compound in northern Tehran who had been taken hostage by hardline students earlier in the day, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

“Death to England,” some cried in the first significant assault of a foreign diplomatic area in Iran in years. 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 was replaced with a banner in the name of 7th century Shiite saint, Imam Hussein. Occupiers also tore down picture of Queen Elizabeth II.

The occupier called for the closure of the embassy calling it a “spy den” the same phrase used after militants stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran after the 1979 Islamic Revolution and held 52 hostages for 444 days. In the early moments of the siege, protesters tossed out papers from the compound and hauled down the U.S. flag. Washington and Tehran have had no diplomatic relations since then.

Compiled from AFP, AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.

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