REPORTING FROM TEHRAN AND BEIRUT -- Hundreds of demonstrators stormed the British Embassy in Tehran on Tuesday to protest sanctions imposed on Iran, chanting "Death to Britain" and setting fire to the British, U.S. and Israeli flags.
Some of the protesters climbed over the gates and into the compound, where they tossed gasoline bombs and hoisted the Iranian flag in place of the British banner. Iranian security forces appeared slow to respond but regained control of the compound within three hours. Initial reports indicated that the embassy staff was safe.
The British Foreign Office said it was outraged.
"Under international law, including the Vienna Convention, the Iranian government have a clear duty to protect diplomats and embassies in their country and we expect them to act urgently to bring the situation under control and ensure the safety of our staff and security of our property," a Foreign Office spokesman said on customary condition of anonymity.
The demonstrators were angry about Britain's decision to sever financial ties with Iranian banks, which British officials accuse of facilitating Tehran's nuclear program.
British Chancellor George Osborne announced the sanctions last week, after the International Atomic Energy Agency released a strongly worded report saying Iran may be secretly working to develop a nuclear weapon. Iran says its nuclear program is only for civilian purposes.
Iran's Guardian Council, which vets legislation from parliament, approved a bill Monday calling for a downgrading of diplomatic relations with Britain and the expulsion of its ambassador, Dominick Chilcott.
Britain called the move "regrettable" and promised to "respond robustly" if Iran acts on the legislation.
-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Alexandra Zavis in Beirut. Henry Chu in London contributed reporting.
Photo: Protesters carry the royal coat of arms after breaking in to the British Embassy during an anti-British demonstration in Tehran on Tuesday. Credit: FarsNews / Getty Images