TEHRAN (Dispatches) -- The British ambassador to Iran has been summoned to explain what he was doing near the site of riots, Iran’s foreign ministry said Sunday.
Rob Macaire was called to the ministry of foreign affairs after police arrested him on Saturday as suspicious riots broke out by a few hundred people in Tehran over the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner.
Tehran said it had summoned Macaire to justify his "illegal and inappropriate presence” at the protest. Several hundred angry protesters gathered outside the UK embassy calling for its closure.
The latest undiplomatic move by the British ambassador has threatened to further escalate the tensions between London and Tehran.
Macaire, who was released later, tweeted that he had attended what was advertised as a vigil, claiming that he left after five minutes as it began to turn into riots, and was detained 30 minutes later as he made his way back to the embassy.
Iran’s deputy foreign minister said on Sunday that Macaire had been "arrested as an unknown foreigner in an illegal gathering”.
"When police informed me a man’s been arrested who claims to be UK ambassador, I said IMPOSSIBLE!” tweeted Abbas Araqchi. "Only after my phone conversation with him I identified, out of big surprise, that it’s him. 15 minutes later he was free.”
Angry protesters gathered outside the UK embassy to chant "Death to England” and demand the embassy’s closure. The British Foreign Office officials described the atmosphere as tense.
The Tasnim news agency said Macaire had been arrested for "organizing suspicious movements and protests in front of Amirkabir University but released after hours”. It added that he would be summoned by the foreign ministry on Sunday to explain why he was provoking "radical acts amongst the protesters”.
The report quoted an informed police source as saying that he was using "a shop which is located in front of the main gate of Amirkabir University as the envoy’s secret place for coordination”.
Several Iranian politicians called for Macaire to be expelled from the country. In parliament, MP Alireza Salimi said: "It is strange that the British ambassador was present in the riots last night and finally came out of the curtain; we did not know whether the British embassy building was an embassy or a chaos command centre; an embassy or counter-revolutionary organization.”
Macaire was last week called in by the Iranian foreign ministry for an official dressing down over the way in which senior British politicians including Boris Johnson and UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab had appeared to welcome the U.S. assassination of the Middle East’s most prominent anti-terror commander General Qassem Soleimani.