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'Hang the British' cry Teheran students

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Submitted by AS (India), Mar 30, 2007 at 04:29

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml;jsessionid=3VS5XXWIEZMUJQFIQMFSFF4AVCBQ0IV0?xml=/news/2007/03/30/wiran130.xml

Iranian students carried out a mock trial of the British military captives yesterday, chanting "death to Britain" and demanding punishment for the 15 sailors and Marines.

A handful of bearded militants gathered outside the foreign ministry in Teheran and called for the prisoners to be hanged. One poster read: "15 British aggressors must be executed".

A militant student demanding death for the prisoners in the Teheran demonstration

But the rhetoric of the demonstrators, who would have gathered with the regime's approval, does not represent public opinion.

Most people in Teheran have no personal enmity towards westerners and seem more worried about the rainy weather ruining their new year holiday.

"It's all right. It's just Britain and Iran playing a game and God willing it will all be sorted out in a few days," said Reza Kesharvarzi, a Teheran resident.

Initially, state television news barely touched the issue but, since footage of the captives was broadcast on Wednesday, the subject has dominated the local media, which blames Britain for an "act of aggression" against Iranian borders.

An earlier promise to release 26-year-old leading seaman Faye Turney has been revoked. Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, accused Britain of escalating the crisis by referring the matter to the United Nations security council.

"Instead of sending a technical team to examine the problem, they kicked up a media storm, announced a freeze in relations and spoke about the security council. That will not resolve the problem. They have miscalculated," he said.

Britain's "incorrect attitude" had derailed the release of Miss Turney.

The demonstrations and the official media's hostility make it harder for Iran to free the sailors. Above all, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's conservative regime will not want to give any impression of caving in.

The crisis has brought to the fore Iran's complicated attitude towards Britain. Many Iranians remember how British strategists manipulated their country's politics for decades, paying off politicians, newspaper editors, gang leaders and activists to maintain a firm grip on the oil industry.

In 1953, the British helped to overthrow Mohammed Mossadeq, a popular prime minister who infuriated London by nationalising BP's assets. Iranians often see - or imagine - a hidden British hand behind events in their country.

Mr Ahmadinejad's supporters see this confrontation as part of a long period of escalation, deliberately co-ordinated by London and Washington. They believe this started almost six years ago when British and American forces arrived on their eastern frontier in Afghanistan - and continued in 2003 when they invaded Iraq.

The coalition's presence in the Persian Gulf - symbolised by the patrolling of the frigate Cornwall - is a continuation of older imperialist policy stretching back some two centuries.

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