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British embassy staff to go on trial in Iran

A TOP Iranian cleric said yesterday that some of the detained Iranian staff at the British Embassy in Tehran will be put on trial, and he accused Britain of a role in instigating widespread protests that erupted over the country's disputed presidential election.

The announcement by Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati came a day after the European Union demanded Iran release the staffers, who were detained on June 27. Britain is pressing EU countries to pull their ambassadors out of Tehran in protest.

Jannati, a powerful hard-liner who is close to Iran's supreme leader, told worshippers during a prayer sermon in Tehran that the detained staff "made confessions."

"In these events, their embassy had a presence," he said, referring to the post-election turmoil. "Some people were arrested. Well, inevitably, they will be put on trial."

He did not say how many would be tried or on what charges. Earlier Iranian officials said all but one of the nine embassy personnel originally arrested had been released, but European Union officials said they believed more than one was still being held.

In London, a Foreign Office spokeswoman said British officials were "very concerned about these reports and are investigating."

In Sweden, which currently holds the rotating EU presidency, Foreign Minister Carl Bildt said "it's not acceptable to file charges against the ones released or the ones still in custody," though he added that the report had not yet been confirmed.

Jannati does not hold a position in the government or judiciary, but is the head of the Guardian Council, a powerful body in Iran's ruling clerical hierarchy that stands above the elected government. He is also close to supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Jannati told worshippers that the British "had designed a velvet revolution. In March, they said that street riots were possible during June elections."

He also said those involved in protests "need to repent and ask God to forgive them."


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