By WILLIAM J. KOLE
In an attempt to placate protesters, Iran conducted a partial recount Monday of votes cast in its disputed presidential election, and the hard-line president asked for an investigation into the shooting death of a young woman who has become a potent symbol of the opposition's struggle.
The regime's standoff with the West over its crackdown on demonstrators sharply escalated Sunday when Iran announced it had detained nine local employees of the British Embassy in Teheran. Both Britain and the European Union condemned what they called "harassment and intimidation."
Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said five of the Iranian embassy staffers had been released and the remaining four were being interrogated.
Intelligence Minister Gholam Hossein Mohseini Ejehi claimed he had videotape showing some of the employees mingling with protesters, and said the fate of those who remain in custody now rests with the court system in a country where supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's word is law. State television said the cleric-controlled judiciary appointed a team "to help clarify the fate of the detainees."
But Qashqavi played down the dispute, saying officials were in written and verbal contact with British Foreign Secretary David Miliband and Iran had dismissed the idea of downgrading relations. Last week, Iran expelled two British diplomats after accusing the country of meddling, and Britain responded in kind.
"Reduction of diplomatic ties is not on our agenda for any country, including Britain," Qashqavi said.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, asked a top judge Monday to investigate the killing of Neda Agha Soltan, who became an icon of Iran's ragtag opposition after gruesome video of her bleeding to death on a Teheran street was circulated worldwide.
Ahmadinejad's Web site said Soltan was slain by "unknown agents and in a suspicious" way, convincing him that "enemies of the nation" were responsible.
The regime has implicated protesters and even foreign intelligence agents in Soltan's death. But an Iranian doctor who said he tried to save her told the BBC last week she apparently was shot by a member of the volunteer Basij militia. Protesters spotted an armed member of the militia on a motorcycle, and stopped and disarmed him, Dr. Arash Hejazi said.
Authorities have cracked down hard on dissent, most recently on Sunday, when riot police clashed with up to 3,000 protesters near the Ghoba Mosque in north Teheran. It was Iran's first major post-election unrest in four days.
Witnesses told The Associated Press that police used tear gas and clubs to break up the crowd, and said some demonstrators suffered broken bones. They alleged that security forces beat an elderly woman, prompting a screaming match with young demonstrators who then fought back.
The reports could not be independently verified because of tight restrictions imposed on journalists in Iran.
North Teheran is a base of support for opposition Mir Hossein Mousavi, who insists he - not Ahmadinejad - won the disputed June 12 election.
The Guardian Council, Iran's top electoral oversight body, said it planned to complete the recount of a random 10 percent of ballots by the end of the day. Spokesman Abbas Ali Kadkhodaei said the recount was aimed at gaining "the confidence of the respectable supporters of candidates."
Yet it was unclear what purpose the recount would serve. Khamenei and the Council already have pronounced the results free of major fraud and insist that Ahmadinejad won by a landslide, and Mousavi has insisted the government nullify the results and hold a new vote - steps it flatly refuses to consider.
State TV said Mousavi representatives met with a Guardian Council election review panel, but it ended in a stalemate and officials decided to proceed with the recount.
Witnesses who spoke with the AP said they did not spot Mousavi at Sunday's rally. But one of his close assistants addressed the crowd through a loudspeaker and other opposition figures also appeared, including reformist presidential candidate Mahdi Karroubi.
Local news site Rooz Online said Mousavi and his wife, Zahra Rahnavard, were supposed to attend the protest - but when they couldn't reach the scene, Mousavi addressed supporters via a telephone held up to a megaphone, and spoke of "the importance of the people's vote and peace."
Sunday's clashes erupted at a rally that had been planned to coincide with a memorial held each year for Ayatollah Mohammad Beheshti, who came to be considered a martyr in the Islamic Republic after he was killed in a major anti-regime bombing in 1981.
Iranian authorities say 17 protesters and eight Basij have been killed in two weeks of unrest, and that hundreds of people have been arrested.
Iran's official IRNA news agency quoted Basij commander Hossein Taeb - whose militiamen have played a key role in the government's effort to quash protests - as saying that authorities arrested several people who dressed in police and Basij uniforms and smashed car windows.
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