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Top Iran cleric defensive over British embassy attack

Iranian cleric urge his government to respect the international law in its relations with western countries

AFP , Saturday 3 Dec 2011

A senior Iranian cleric on Saturday sought to put distance between Tehran's officials and a pro-regime mob that ransacked Britain's embassy this week, while admitting his country could pay a "high price" for the assault.

"There is no doubt that Britain is one of the oldest enemies of Iran... but young revolutionaries should not go beyond the law," IRNA news agency quoted Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi as saying in a statement.

"I advise them not to act without the permission of the supreme leader and officials," he added.

The message -- the first disavowal of the protests by a senior Iranian figure -- came a day after Britain's evacuated ambassador, Dominick Chilcott, told British media the attack Tuesday on his embassy could not have happened without "the acquiescence and support of the state."

Shirazi implicitly denied that by blaming the embassy attack on overzealous youths, echoing some official assertions that the protesters had acted spontaneously and without orders.

"It is important to note that sometimes certain actions overstep the law.... And we could pay a high price for it," the cleric said.

He advised protesters to be "vigilant" and to not hand excuses to Britain and other enemies to further punish Iran, which he said had the upper hand in developments in the Middle East.

The comments seem to hint at an effort to halt a new rising anti-British campaign in Iran after London, along with other Western nations, placed sanctions against Tehran's financial sector over its nuclear programme.

Tuesday's embassy assault prompted Britain to evacuate all its diplomats and order the closure of the Iranian embassy in London.

France on Saturday announced it was reducing the number of its diplomats in Tehran as a temporary "precautionary measure".

The Iranian foreign ministry expressed its "regret" after the attack. But parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani justified the violence as a legitimate response to "the domineering policy" of Britain.

Foreign media in Tehran on Thursday were told covering all anti-British, pro-regime demonstrations was now forbidden -- an unprecedented restriction that adds to many other reporting curbs already in place.

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