Iran frees British sailors after 13-day crisis | world | Hindustan Times
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Iran frees British sailors after 13-day crisis

world Updated: Apr 05, 2007 11:47 IST

AFP
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Iran released 15 British sailors on Thursday as a "gift" to the people of Britain in a dramatic end to a two-week ordeal that had triggered a new diplomatic crisis between Tehran and the West.

As relatives and friends popped champagne corks in Britain, the naval personnel were seen on state television chatting with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad after his surprise announcement of their release.

"Although Iran has the right to prosecute them by following the model of the prophet the 15 people were pardoned and their freedom given as a gift to the British people," Ahmadinejad said at a Tehran press conference.

The announcement was welcomed by the British and US governments and relatives of the captives, some of whom had been paraded several times on state television "confessing" to trespassing in Iranian waters.

An aide to the president said the 14 men and one woman would fly out of Tehran on Friday, although Ahmadinejad had initially said they would be going home on Thursday.

The eight sailors and seven marines, all in their 20s, were seized at gunpoint while patrolling the northern Gulf between Iran and Iraq on March 23.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair hailed their release although a spokesman declined to comment on whether there were conditions attached.

"The disagreements we have with your government we wish to resolve peacefully," Blair said in comments directed to the Iranian people.