British ambassador arrested in Iran as protests flare

High-ranking officials in Tehran call for Rob Macaire’s expulsion amid unrest following plane crash admission

Protesters outside the UK embassy in Tehran
(Image credit: Atta Kenare/AFP/Getty Images)

Britain has condemned the arrest of its ambassador in Iran as a flagrant violation of international law, amid mounting protests against the Iranian regime following the downing of a passenger plane that killed all 176 people on board.

Rob Macaire was detained on Saturday after attending a vigil for those who died when Iran’s military shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 last week.

He tweeted to confirm he had left after five minutes when it turned into a protest, before being arrested and accused of helping to organise the demonstrations.

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After initially dismissing reports that authorities had detained Britain’s top diplomat in the country, Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Seyed Abbas Araghchi, tweeted that after confirming Macaire’s identity on the telephone he was immediately released.

Appointed to the post in 2018, Macaire is “a highly experienced and level-headed diplomat and the likelihood of him actively joining protests, as opposed to observing events, is minimal,” The Guardian reports.

Nevertheless, The Times adds that “high-ranking figures within the Iranian regime are calling for Macaire’s expulsion amid rising turmoil in the country”.

Louise Callaghan in The Sunday Times writes that Iranians have reacted “with shock and incomprehension” after their military confessed to accidentally shooting down the Ukraine-bound airliner that crashed outside Tehran on Wednesday. Callaghan adds the confession “blows up” a “rare moment of national unity” following the US assassination of General Qasam Solemani.

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Reuters reports that protesters took to the streets to “pile pressure on Iran’s leadership on Sunday with demands for top authorities to quit”.

The news agency says riot police fired teargas at thousands of protesters in the capital, “where many had chanted ‘Death to the dictator’, directing their anger at the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei”.

“The surging anger over the crash and the days of false denials comes at a sensitive moment in Iran and just weeks after the regime’s forces killed hundreds of civilians while crushing nationwide protests,” says The Daily Telegraph.

Khamenei quickly sought to distance himself from the crash and allegations he was responsible for misleading the public. Instead he “moved to place the blame on the military in an attempt to shield himself from responsibility”, the Telegraph adds.

“There were indications that the relatively moderate circle around Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, was also seizing the moment to push blame towards its hardline rivals inside the Revolutionary Guard”, reports the paper.

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