Iran summons UK ambassador over his ‘illegal’ presence at protests

Britain's ambassador in Iran has been summoned to explain his "illegal and inappropriate presence" at an anti-government protest, the Iranian foreign ministry has said.

Rob Macaire was called in to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs after being arrested by police on Saturday as demonstrations broke out in Tehran over the downing of a Ukrainian airliner by Iranian forces.

The move threatened to further escalate the diplomatic row between London and Tehran after Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab denounced Mr Macaire's detention as a "flagrant violation" of international law.

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Protesters chant slogans and hold up posters of Gen. Qassem Soleimani during a demonstration in front of the British Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. A candlelight ceremony late Saturday in Tehran turned into a protest, with hundreds of people chanting against the country's leaders — including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and police dispersing them with tear gas. Police briefly detained the British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, who said he went to the Saturday vigil without knowing it would turn into a protest. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Hardline protesters chant slogans while holding up a poster of Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, during a demonstration in front of the British Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. A candlelight ceremony late Saturday in Tehran turned into a protest, with hundreds of people chanting against the country's leaders — including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and police dispersing them with tear gas. Police briefly detained the British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, who said he went to the Saturday vigil without knowing it would turn into a protest. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
Protesters chant slogans while holding up posters of Gen. Qassem Soleimani during a demonstration in front of the British Embassy in Tehran, Iran, Sunday, Jan. 12, 2020. A candlelight ceremony late Saturday in Tehran turned into a protest, with hundreds of people chanting against the country's leaders — including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and police dispersing them with tear gas. Police briefly detained the British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, who said he went to the Saturday vigil without knowing it would turn into a protest. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 12 : Iranians gather to take part in an anti-government protest around Azadi square in Tehran, Iran on January 12, 2020. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 12 : Iranians gather to take part in an anti-government protest around Azadi square in Tehran, Iran on January 12, 2020. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 12 : Iranians gather to take part in an anti-government protest around Azadi square in Tehran, Iran on January 12, 2020. (Photo by Stringer/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 12: Protesters chant slogans while holding up posters of Gen. Qassem Soleimani during a demonstration in front of the British Embassy on January 12, 2020 in Tehran, Iran. A candlelight vigil held late on Saturday in Tehran, to remember the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash, turned into a protest with hundreds of people chanting against the country's leaders including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and police dispersing them with tear gas. Police briefly detained the British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, who said he went to the Saturday vigil without knowing it would turn into a protest. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 12: Iranians gather in front of Embassy of the United Kingdom to protest against British Ambassador Rob Macaires attendance to a protest last night at Amirkabir University in Tehran, Iran on January 12, 2020. The ambassador was detained during a protest Amirkabir University in Tehran but was released after an-hour-long detention, according to local reports. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 12: Iranians gather in front of Embassy of the United Kingdom to protest against British Ambassador Rob Macaires attendance to a protest last night at Amirkabir University in Tehran, Iran on January 12, 2020. The ambassador was detained during a protest Amirkabir University in Tehran but was released after an-hour-long detention, according to local reports. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
Iranian demonstrators hold placards bearing the image of slain military commander Qasem Soleimani in front of the British embassy in the capital Tehran on January 12, 2020 following the British ambassador's arrest for allegedly attending an illegal demonstration. - Chanting "Death to Britain", up to 200 protesters rallied outside the mission a day after the brief arrest of British ambassador Rob Macaire at a memorial for those killed when a Ukraine airliner was shot down. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian security forces stand guard in front of the British embassy in the capital Tehran on January 12, 2020 during demonstrations following the British ambassador's arrest for allegedly attending an illegal demonstration. - Chanting "Death to Britain", up to 200 protesters rallied outside the mission a day after the brief arrest of British ambassador Rob Macaire at a memorial for those killed when a Ukraine airliner was shot down. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian security forces stand guard in front of the British embassy in the capital Tehran on January 12, 2020 during demonstrations following the British ambassador's arrest for allegedly attending an illegal demonstration. - Chanting "Death to Britain", up to 200 protesters rallied outside the mission a day after the brief arrest of British ambassador Rob Macaire at a memorial for those killed when a Ukraine airliner was shot down. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Iranian demonstrators hold placards bearing the image of slain military commander Qasem Soleimani in front of the British embassy in the capital Tehran on January 12, 2020 following the British ambassador's arrest for allegedly attending an illegal demonstration. - Chanting "Death to Britain", up to 200 protesters rallied outside the mission a day after the brief arrest of British ambassador Rob Macaire at a memorial for those killed when a Ukraine airliner was shot down. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 12: Iranians gather in front of Embassy of the United Kingdom to protest against British Ambassador Rob Macaires attendance to a protest last night at Amirkabir University in Tehran, Iran on January 12, 2020. The ambassador was detained during a protest Amirkabir University in Tehran but was released after an-hour-long detention, according to local reports. (Photo by Fatemeh Bahrami/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 12: Protesters chant slogans and hold up posters of Gen. Qassem Soleimani while burning representations of British and Israeli flags, during a demonstration in front of the British Embassy on January 12, 2020 in Tehran, Iran. A candlelight vigil held late on Saturday in Tehran, to remember the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash, turned into a protest with hundreds of people chanting against the country's leaders including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and police dispersing them with tear gas. Police briefly detained the British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, who said he went to the Saturday vigil without knowing it would turn into a protest. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
TEHRAN, IRAN - JANUARY 12: Protesters chant slogans and hold up posters of Gen. Qassem Soleimani while burning representations of British and Israeli flags, during a demonstration in front of the British Embassy on January 12, 2020 in Tehran, Iran. A candlelight vigil held late on Saturday in Tehran, to remember the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash, turned into a protest with hundreds of people chanting against the country's leaders including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and police dispersing them with tear gas. Police briefly detained the British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, who said he went to the Saturday vigil without knowing it would turn into a protest. (Photo by Majid Saeedi/Getty Images)
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Dozens of Iranian hard-liners were reported to have gathered outside the British embassy, chanting "Death to England" and calling for the ambassador to be expelled.

Earlier, Mr Macaire denied he had been taking part in the demonstrations. He said he been attending a vigil for the victims of Flight PS752, when protests broke out and he left.

"Can confirm I wasn't taking part in any demonstrations! Went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of PS752 tragedy," he tweeted.

"Normal to want to pay respects- some of victims were British. I left after five minutes, when some started chanting."

Mr Macaire said that he was arrested 30 minutes after leaving the area, although he was later released.

The semi-official Tasnim news agency said he was one of a number of people arrested outside the Amir Kabir University on suspicion of organising, provoking and directing radical actions.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs later said on its Telegram channel that he had been summoned over his "illegal and inappropriate presence" at the protests.

The Foreign Office confirmed that Mr Macaire had been called in.

He was said to have protested strongly that his detention had been unjustified and that it was "completely untrue" to say he had been involved in the protests.

The authorities in Iran were on standby for further demonstrations after the Revolutionary Guard admitted accidentally shooting down the Ukrainian jet with the loss of all 176 people on board.

Earlier deputy foreign minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi said police had been unaware Mr Macaire was a diplomat when he was held as an "unknown foreigner".

He said that once he was able to speak to Mr Macaire on the telephone and confirm that he was the ambassador, he was released within 15 minutes.

"He wasn't detained, but arrested as unknown foreigner in an illegal gathering," he tweeted.

"When police informed me a man's arrested who claims to be UK ambassador, I said IMPOSSIBLE!

"Only after my phone conversation with him I identified, out of big surprise, that it's him. Fifteen minutes later he was free."

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson has joined with French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a fresh appeal to Tehran to return to compliance with the Iran nuclear deal.

In a joint statement, the three leaders said they remained committed to the agreement – under which Iran is supposed to curb its nuclear weapons programme in return for the easing of international sanctions – despite the withdrawal of the United States.

They said there was a need "to define a long-term framework" for Iran's nuclear programme and that they stood ready to engage with Tehran in order to maintain the stability of the region.

"Despite increasingly difficult circumstances, we have worked hard to preserve the agreement" the statement said.

"It is essential that Iran return to full compliance with its commitments under the agreement.

"We have expressed our deep concern at the actions taken by Iran in violation of its commitments since July 2019. These actions must be reversed."

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