TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran has arrested eight local British embassy staff, media reports said on Sunday, 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, 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, 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 on Sunday, 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 Friday it would create a special committee of political figures and candidate representatives to recount 10 percent of the ballots and draw up a report on the vote.
But 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.”
Mousavi rejected the panel outright on Saturday, while the other defeated candidate, Mohsen Rezai, has agreed to be part of the panel if Mousavi and Karroubi also agree to nominate representatives to the body.
But 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.
“Limiting the probe into complaints about electoral irregularities to recounting 10 percent of the ballot boxes cannot attract people’s trust and convince public opinion about the results,” he said on his campaign website.
“I insist again on cancelling the election (results) as the most suitable way out of the problem,” he said.
Mousavi, who was prime minister in the post-revolution years, won just 34 percent of the vote against 63 percent for Ahmadinejad, a gap of 11 million votes, according to official results.
Despite ordering a partial recount, the Guardians Council said no “major irregularities” have so far been found and the election was the “cleanest we have had.”
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 Mousavi 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, 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, 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,” Obama said.
However, Obama said talks between Iran and world powers over its nuclear drive are likely to continue.
The United States and other Western countries suspect Iran of secretly trying to build an atomic weapon, charges repeatedly denied by Tehran.
On Friday, foreign ministers of the Group of Eight leading powers said they “deplore” the post-election violence in Iran, the regional Shiite powerhouse and OPEC’s second largest oil exporter.