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Iran detains UK embassy personnel

IRAN has detained several local British embassy staff, sparking a new row with Britain yesterday.

Britain called the action "harassment and intimidation" and demanded the release of all the embassy employees still held.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei denounced what he called "interfering statements" by Western officials following Iran's disputed presidential election, state media reported.

"If the (Iranian) nation and officials are unanimous and united, then the temptations of international ill-wishers and interfering and cruel politicians would no longer have an impact," state radio quoted Khamenei as saying.

Khamenei on June 19 called Britain the "most treacherous" of Iran's enemies, which he accused of orchestrating the outpouring of protest after the June 12 poll.

The streets of Tehran have returned to calm after riot police and religious basij militia crushed demonstrations in which at least 20 people were killed.

Iranian authorities have repeatedly accused Britain and the United States of inciting the turmoil. Both countries deny it.

"Eight local employees at the British embassy who had a considerable role in recent unrest were taken into custody," the semi-official Fars news agency said, without saying when.

British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said about nine employees had been detained, but some had been freed.

"We are still concerned about a number of them who to our knowledge have not been released," he said at an international conference in Corfu, Greece. "This is harassment and intimidation of a kind that is quite unacceptable."

"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," he added.

The detentions further strained ties between London and Tehran. They have already expelled two of each other's diplomats since the election.

Official results showing President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad won re-election by a landslide were greeted with disbelief by many Iranians who agreed with complaints by the runner-up, Mirhossein Mousavi, that the vote was rigged.

The Guardian Council, Iran's top legislative body, is to give its final verdict on the election today.


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