(Recasts with British embassy staff reportedly withdrawn)
* Britain has withdrawn staff from Iran - sources
* UK says staff were not "hostages"
* Britain warns of "serious consequences"
By Robin Pomeroy
TEHRAN, Nov 30 Britain has evacuated all
its diplomatic staff from Iran, Western diplomatic sources told
Reuters on Wednesday, a day after protesters stormed and
ransacked its embassy and a residential compound.
Britain said it was outraged by the attacks and warned of
"serious consequences". The U.N. Security Council condemned the
attacks "in the strongest terms". U.S. President Barack Obama
called on Iran to hold those responsible to account.
No comment was immediately available from the British
government on the reported withdrawal of embassy staff from
On Tuesday, Iranian protesters stormed two British
diplomatic compounds in Tehran, smashing windows, torching a car
and burning the British flag in protest against new sanctions
imposed by London.
The attacks occurred at a time of rising diplomatic tension
between Iran and Western nations, which last week imposed fresh
sanctions over Tehran's nuclear programme that they believe is
aimed at achieving the capability of making an atomic bomb.
Iran, the world's fifth biggest oil exporter, says it wants
nuclear plants only for the generation of electricity.
The embassy storming was also a sign of deepening political
infighting within Iran's ruling hardline elites, with the
conservative-led parliament attempting to force the hand of
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and expel the British ambassador.
"Radicals in Iran and in the West are always in favour of
crisis ... Such radical hardliners in Iran will use the crisis
to unite people and also to blame the crisis for the fading
economy," said political analyst Hasan Sedghi.
Several dozen protesters broke away from a crowd of a few
hundred outside the main British embassy compound in Tehran,
scaled the gates, broke the locks and went inside.
Protesters pulled down the British flag, burned it and put
up the Iranian flag, Iranian news agencies and news pictures
showed. Inside, the demonstrators smashed windows of office and
residential quarters and set a car ablaze, news pictures showed.
One took a framed picture of Queen Elizabeth, state TV
showed. Others carried the royal crest out through the embassy
gate as police stood by, pictures carried by the semi-official
Fars news agency showed.
All embassy personnel were accounted for, a British diplomat
told Reuters in Washington, saying Britain did not believe that
any sensitive materials had been seized.
Demonstrators waved flags symbolising martyrdom and held
aloft portraits of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei who has
the final say on matters of state in Iran.
Another group of protesters broke into a second British
compound at Qolhak in north Tehran, the IRNA state news agency
said. Once the embassy's summer quarters, the sprawling,
tree-lined compound is now used to house diplomatic staff.
An Iranian report said six British embassy staff had been
briefly held by the protesters. British Foreign Secretary
William Hague said the situation had been "confusing" and that
he would not have called them "hostages".
"Police freed the six people working for the British embassy
in Qolhak garden," Iran's Fars news agency said.
A German school next to the Qolhak compound was also
damaged, the German government said.
Police appeared to have cleared the demonstrators in front
of the main embassy compound, but later clashed with
protesters and fired tear gas to try to disperse them, Fars
said. Protesters nevertheless entered the compound a second
time, before once again leaving, it said.
British Prime Minister David Cameron chaired a meeting of
the government crisis committee to discuss the attacks, which he
said were "outrageous and indefensible".
"The failure of the Iranian government to defend British
staff and property was a disgrace," he said in a statement.
"The Iranian government must recognise that there will be
serious consequences for failing to protect our staff. We will
consider what these measures should be in the coming days."
The United States, alongside the European Union and many of
its member states also strongly condemned the attacks.
There have been regular protests outside the British embassy
over the years since the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled
the U.S.-backed shah, but never have any been so violent.
The attacks and hostage-taking were a reminder of the 1979
takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran carried out by radical
students who held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The United
States cut diplomatic ties with Iran after the hostage-taking.
(Additional reporting by Hossein Jaseb and Hashem Kalantari
in Tehran, Parisa Hafezi in Istanbul, William Maclean and Adrian
Croft in London and Arshad Mohammed in Washington. Writing by
Jon Hemming, editing by Ralph Gowling)