Italy says Iranian militia attacked its embassy

ROME Tue Feb 9, 2010 1:21pm EST

Iranian demonstrators tear down a street sign named ''Rome'', during a demonstration outside the Italian embassy in Tehran February 9, 2010. REUTERS/Fars News/Meghdad Madadi

Iranian demonstrators tear down a street sign named ''Rome'', during a demonstration outside the Italian embassy in Tehran February 9, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Fars News/Meghdad Madadi

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ROME (Reuters) - Italy said dozens of members of Iran's hardline religious Basij militia had tried to attack its embassy in Tehran on Tuesday, but Iranian media described the incident as a student protest and did not mention any violence.

Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini told a Senate hearing: "About a hundred Basij dressed as civilians tried to assault the embassy shouting 'Death to Italy' and 'Death to (Prime Minister) Berlusconi'."

He later told reporters the attackers were "certainly or most probably Basij."

"We did not recognize them, but because of the type of demonstration and the slogans chanted it looked a bit suspect."

He said the attackers had hurled stones at the embassy but caused no serious damage. Iranian police had intervened to "stop a full-blown assault."

Iran's IRNA news agency said university students had protested outside the French and Italian embassies, condemning both countries' "interference in Iran's domestic affairs." The report made no mention of any violence.

Television footage showed people throwing stones and eggs at the embassies.

"This type of demonstration is orchestrated by the regime," the Italian ambassador in Tehran, Alberto Bradanini, told Repubblica TV, describing the incident as a protest rather than an attack.

Italy has traditionally been one of Iran's main trading partners in Europe but Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's close ties with Israel, and diplomatic pressure over the nuclear dispute, have led to a sharp drop in Italian investments.

On a trip to Israel last week, Berlusconi said his government would block new investments in Iran's oil and gas sector, where Italy's ENI is active. Iranian media later condemned Berlusconi as "a slave of Israel."

Frattini said Italy's ambassador had been summoned by Iranian authorities last Sunday in protest at Berlusconi's comments.

"We simply replied to the Iranian government that the whole of Italy shares the words of our prime minister and that Israel's right to a guaranteed and safe existence is unquestionable," Frattini said, adding the ambassador would not attend the celebrations on Thursday marking the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Hardline students often hold demonstrations in front of Western embassies in Tehran.

(Reporting by Roberto Landucci; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

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