Diplomatic relations begin to show strain

Iranian authorities have accused western governments, particularly Britain and the United States, of interfering.

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TEHRAN // Iran's Nobel laureate, Shirin Ebadi, called on European countries to refrain from holding talks with Iran until it ends violence against protesters and fresh elections are held. The call came as Iran's relations with Europe soured considerably yesterday. "I don't believe in economic sanctions because they will hurt the people, not the government," Ms Ebadi told the BBC Persian television. "I believe in political sanctions. European countries can reduce their relations with Iran to charge d' affaires level."

As international alarm over the crisis mounted, Britain said it was expelling two Iranian diplomats after a similar move by Tehran, while other European nations hauled in Iranian envoys to protest against the election and the repression of the opposition protests. Gordon Brown, the British prime minister, told the House of Commons yesterday: "I am disappointed that Iran has placed us in this position but we will continue to seek good relations with Iran and to call for the regime to respect the human rights and democratic freedoms of the Iranian people."

In protest, Iran has decided to recall its ambassador from London because of what it termed British interference in Iran's internal affairs, though the move will not be permanent, Mahmoud Ahmadi, a member of parliament, was quoted by the Iranian News Network website as saying. Iranian authorities have accused western governments, particularly Britain and the United States, of interfering. In the latest outburst, the foreign ministry took aim at the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, over remarks it said smacked of "meddling" in its affairs, the state broadcaster reported.

"These stances are an evident contradiction of the UN secretary general's duties, international law and are an apparent meddling in Iran's internal affairs," Hassan Ghashghavi, a ministry spokesman, said. On Monday, Mr Ban called on the Iranian authorities to stop resorting to arrests, threats and the use of force against civilians. The UAE foreign minister said last night the domestic upheaval in Iran is stabilising. Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed said the UAE hopes Iranians can "very quickly get together" to understand the election results. "The Iran situation is stabilised as we see it, at the moment, or getting there," Sheikh Abdullah said after talks with his Cypriot counterpart, Markos Kyprianou.

Iran's parliament announced yesterday that Mahmoud Ahmadinejad would be sworn in as president and introduce his new cabinet between July 26 and Aug 19, while the Guardian Council, which is tasked with supervising elections, announced that annulment of the elections was not on the agenda. "We witnessed no major fraud or breach," a spokesman, Abbasali Kadkhodai, said on the English-language state television Press TV. "Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment taking place."

"Most of the complaints reported are irregularities before the elections and not during or after the vote. Therefore, there is no possibility of an annulment," Mr Kadkhodai said. The Guardian Council has admitted that some allegations of irregularities were founded, including the larger number of votes than the number of eligible voters in 50 of the 366 constituencies. The final ruling of the council on fraud allegations was expected to be announced today, and opposition supporters have called a protest rally for today in front of the Iranian parliament. But last night the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, accepted a request by the council to extend the deadline by five days for receiving and looking into election complaints.

Mir Hossein Mousavi, the opposition leader who was defeated by a landslide according to official results, plans to issue a "full report of electoral fraud and irregularities", a statement posted on his website said. But the interior ministry warned Mr Mousavi, who was prime minister in the post-revolution era, "to respect the law and the people's vote" after his presidential election defeat, the state-run Irna news agency said.

According to eyewitnesses, tension in Tehran and some other cities continued yesterday as security forces kept their heavy presence in the streets, keeping protesters who appeared in small groups from demonstrating. Use of tear gas in some instances has been reported by eyewitnesses. In a strongly worded statement released yesterday, defeated candidate Mehdi Karrubi once again called for the annulment of the election, saying "those who support the government of Mr Ahmadinejad today are supporters of fundamentalism and a Taliban-style interpretation of Islam".

Mr Karrubi has also called on opposition supporters to hold a memorial on Thursday for those killed in earlier protests, but said he has not yet been able to secure a venue for the memorial. The government crackdown on the media continued yesterday with the arrest of Mohammad Hossein Beheshti, the editor of Mr Mousavi's Kalemeh Sabz (the Green Word) newspaper, and some of its staff, as well as a reporter for the government's own news agency, the Islamic Republic News Agency, and a British-Greek reporter with the conservative The Washington Times.

"A Greek journalist who had travelled to Iran several times before and reported for various foreign press has been arrested," Mohsen Moghadaszadeh, the director for foreign press of the Islamic culture ministry, was quoted by the semi-official Fars News Agency as saying yesterday. After a harsh denouncement by Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, of Britain for "meddling in Iran's internal affairs" on Monday, a protest rally was announced by a pro-Ahmadinejad student group in front of the British embassy in Tehran yesterday, but the group called off the rally "due to not being able to acquire permission" and postponed it until further notice, the student group said in a statement released by Fars News Agency.

The state media said at least 17 people have been killed and many more wounded in the unrest that has convulsed the nation for 11 days. * With additional reporting by Agence France-Presse