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Britain refuses to back down on calls for Iran to release captured crew despite 'confessions'

Britain refuses to back down on calls for Iran to release captured crew despite 'confessions'

Britain refused to back down Monday in its call for the unconditional release of its 15 naval crew members despite an Iranian state-run television flashing repeated claims that they had confessed to trespassing into Iranian waters.
Video footage has shown four of the 15 saying they were captured in Iranian waters on March 23, including footage Sunday in which two of the sailors used maps to show the alleged location where they were seized. Iran has said the others have also confessed.
Britain said the latest so-called confessions would not alter attempts to secure the crew's release through diplomatic channels.
"The Iranians know our position, they know that stage-managed TV appearances are not going to affect our position," Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. "They know we have strong international support."
Ministers were scheduled to hold a government crisis committee meeting.
"They've been detained against their will, we have not had consular access and we've made it quite clear they were seized in Iraqi waters, and we want them released," a Foreign Office spokesman said on condition of anonymity.
Britain was communicating with Iran through letters and other contacts between diplomats, rather than any new face-to-face talks, a Defense Ministry spokeswoman said.
Private talks on resolving the situation have been taking place in London and Tehran. Last week, Britain suspended all other diplomatic contacts, freezing work to support trade missions and the issuing of visas to Iranian diplomats.
The eight British sailors and seven marines were detained by Iranian forces while patrolling for smugglers near the mouth of the Shatt al-Arab, a waterway that has long been a disputed dividing line between Iraq and Iran.
Tehran says the crew was in Iranian waters. Britain insists its troops were in Iraqi waters working under a U.N. mandate.
French presidential candidate Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his solidarity with Britain, saying he believed the British crew was in Iraqi waters at the time of their capture.
"Holding the British sailors as prisoners is unacceptable," Sarkozy told reporters in Paris.
The crisis has grown tenser with broadcasts made of the captured crew _ footage the British government has called unacceptable.
In the new footage broadcast Sunday _ shown on one Arabic-language channel and two Farsi-language channels _ the two mariners wore military fatigues and appeared relaxed in separate video clips.
The first sailor, who was identified as Royal Marine Capt. Chris Air, pointed with a pen to a location on a nautical map where he said two boats left a warship in Iraq around 8:30 a.m. on March 23. He said the crew was captured around 10 a.m.
"We were seized apparently at this point here on their maps and on the GPS they've shown us, which is inside Iranian territorial waters," he said, pointing to the map.
The second sailor, identified as Lt. Felix Carman, pointed to the map and also said it was in that location where they were seized.
"I'd like to say to the Iranian people, I can understand why you are so angry about our intrusion into your waters," he said.
The newscaster said the two had confessed to "illegally" trespassing in Iranian waters.
In Tehran, about 200 students threw rocks and firecrackers at the British Embassy on Sunday, calling for the expulsion of ambassador Geoffrey Adams.
The protesters chanted "death to Britain" and "death to America" as they hurled stones into the embassy's courtyard. Britain's Foreign Office said nobody was hurt and there had been no damage to the compound.
In London, about a handful of demonstrators protested outside the Iranian Embassy, waving placards saying "Let them go, Iran" and "Honk for the hostages."
The Muslim Council of Britain, the country's largest Islamic umbrella group, said it has written the Iranian ambassador in London asking that the crew be freed.