Iran summoned the British ambassador on Sunday after it accused him of "illegal and inappropriate" presence at anti-government demonstrations, deepening a diplomatic rift between the countries. Ambassador Rob Macaire denounced his detention on Saturday, which he said was "of course illegal", saying he had attended a vigil for victims of the Ukrainian Airlines crash, but left as protests broke out. It came as Iran faced a second day of protests over the downing of the flight by the Iranian military, killing all 176 passengers, and initial denials by the regime. Iranian officials defended the detention of Mr Macaire, which foreign secretary Dominic Raab said risked the country gaining "pariah status". Hamid Baeidinejad, Iran’s ambassador to the UK, suggested Mr Macaire should have heeded his own embassy’s warnings to “not be present in the proximity of political demonstrations in Tehran.” Iran’s deputy foreign minister, Seyed Abbas Araghchi, said Mr Macaire had been arrested as an “unknown foreigner in an illegal gathering” and “15 min later he was free.” Demonstrators light candles while gathering during a vigil for the victims of the Ukraine International Airlines flight Credit: Ali Mohammadi/Bloomberg The arrest was condemned by both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and German Chancellor Angela Merkel as a “violation of international law. Meanwhile scores of protestors gathered in Tehran to protest against the regime, despite the widespread presence of riot police just months after hundreds of protesters were killed in a crackdown on demonstrations. Videos showed protesters shouting anti-government slogans, including: “They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here.” Iranian demonstrators prepare to burn a Union flag and Israeli flag in front of the British embassy in Iran's capital Tehran on January 12 One video circulated on social media appeared to show crowds of students at a Tehran university deliberately walking around American and Israeli flags painted on the floor in order to avoid stepping on them. Residents of the capital told Reuters that police were out in force on Sunday. Some protesters in Azadi Square first called on officers there to join them, then turned their anger on the authorities, chanting anti-government slogans including "Down with the dictator" – a reference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to social media posts and Iranian media reports. The semi-official ILNA news agency said police moved to disperse the protesters, who it said numbered as many as 3,000. Videos posted online showed demonstrators running from police who used batons and teargas. The protests began on Saturday after Iran’s admission that it had accidentally shot down the Ukrainian jet caused widespread public anger. Most of the passengers were Iranian citizens. Tehran had previously denied responsibility for the tragedy, which it said came as the military was on high alert for US strikes in the wake of the assasination of General Qassim Soleimani. Rob Macaire A report from London-based Iran International TV suggested Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps had deliberately allowed civilian air traffic around the airport as a deterrence against any US attack. Crowds had gathered outside a university in central Tehran on Saturday to denounce the IRGC, the elite military force under the direct authority of supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Kahmenei. The students shouted, “Death to the dictator,” and “End your rule over the country.” Riot police fired tear gas in an attempt to disperse the protests. Donald Trump voiced his support for pro-democracy demonstrators in Iran by tweeting in Farsi over the weekend. In one tweet, which swiftly earned more than 300,000 likes he said: “To the brave and suffering Iranian people: I have stood with you since the beginning of my presidency and my government will continue to stand with you. We are following your protests closely. Your courage is inspiring.” On Sunday, he warned Iranian leaders not to kill protesters, saying "the world is watching". In an interview with CBS's "Face the Nation" just before the tweet, US Defenc Secretary Mark Esper said Mr Trump was still willing to hold talks with Iran's leaders. "We're willing to sit down and discuss without precondition a new way forward, a series of steps by which Iran becomes a more normal country," Defence Secretary Mark Esper said on CBS's "Face the Nation". And if something happened to the protesters? Mr Esper replied: "The president has drawn no preconditions other than to say we're willing to meet with the Iranian government." Iran crisis | Read more On another Sunday talk show, national security advisor Robert O'Brien said the Iranian regime was "reeling from maximum pressure." "They are reeling from their incompetence in this situation. And the people of Iran are just fed up with it," he said on ABC's "This Week". "Iran is being choked off, and Iran is going to have no other choice but to come to the table." Trump late Sunday slapped O'Brien down, saying, "Actually, I couldn't care less if they negotiate. Will be totally up to them." But back in the US, an ABC News/Ipsos poll showed that 56 per cent of voters disapproved of the president’s handling of Iran, with 52 per cent saying that the airstrike which killed Soleimani had made the US less safe. Last night, a volley of rockets hit an Iraqi airbase north of Baghdad where US forces have been based, wounding four local troops. Military bases hosting US troops have been subject to volleys of rocket and mortar attacks in recent months that have mostly wounded Iraqi forces, but also killed one American contractor last month, setting off the dramatic developments of recent weeks. Iran on Sunday signalled it was interested in "de-escalation" following talks with Qatar, as the US defence secretary said Mr Trump was ready to "sit down and discuss without precondition a new way forward".
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