Britain downplays hostage crisis at embassy in Iran

Iranian Foreign Ministry says it regrets actions of riled-up demonstrators; Hague contradicts claims of 6 hostages.

Iranian demonstrators carry a British flag (R) 311 (photo credit:  REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi)
Iranian demonstrators carry a British flag (R) 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi)
The whereabouts of staff after protesters stormed the British embassy in Tehran was confusing at times, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said on Tuesday, but he contradicted reports that six embassy staff had briefly been held hostage.
"There has been a confusing situation at times as to the whereabouts of certain staff. I wouldn't use the term hostage," Hague told reporters.
RELATED:Iran body passes law expelling British ambassador
Western leaders demand Iran protect UK diplomatsSeparately, a British government source said no hostages were taken - as per reports by Iran's semi-official FARS news agency - and said confusion had arisen because Iranian police had told some embassy staff to stay where they were during the protest.
In the only official response from the Islamic Republic over Tuesday's incident at the British mission, Iran's Foreign Ministry said it regretted the storming of two British diplomatic compounds in Tehran, according to the students' news agency ISNA.
"The foreign ministry regrets the protests that led to some unacceptable behaviors ... We respect and we are committed to international regulations on the immunity and safety of diplomats and diplomatic places," the statement said.
Iranian police on Tuesday secured the release of six employees of the British embassy compound in northern Tehran who had reported been taken hostage by hardline students earlier in the day, according to the semi-official FARS news agency reported.
"Police freed the six people working for the British embassy in Qolhak garden," FARS said.
Protesters stormed two British Embassy compounds in Tehran, smashing windows, hurling petrol bombs and burning the British flag in a protest against sanctions imposed by Britain, live Iranian television showed.
Iranian police clashed with the protesters who gathered in front of the British embassy compound in central Tehran and fired tear gas to disperse the crowd, the semi-official FARS news agency reported.
"Some students at the embassy have been injured and security forces are trying to force them out of the embassy. Some security forces have also been injured in clashes with protesters," the report said.
The attacks followed the rapid approval by Iran's Guardian Council of a parliamentary bill compelling the government to expel the British ambassador in retaliation for the sanctions, and warnings from a lawmaker that angry Iranians could storm the British embassy as they did to the US mission in 1979.
Several dozen protesters broke away from a crowd of a few hundred protesters outside the main embassy compound in downtown Tehran, scaled the embassy gates and went inside. Iranian security forces appeared to do little to stop them.
Iranian protesters burn British flag (Reuters)
Iranian protesters burn British flag (Reuters)