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Protests outside Austrian embassy in Iran

By Maddy French

Protestors gathered outside the Austrian embassy in Iran this week after the embassy helped to organise a meeting between EU foreign policy head Catherine Ashton and Iranian human rights activists.

Hard-liners from the Islamic state of Iran were spotted on Wednesday outside the embassy and overheard shouting "Oh undeserving Ashton, shame on you, shame on you!"

The trip was Ashton first to Iran and coincided with International Women's Day on Saturday  8 March. As part of the visit she met with women's rights activists including the mother of a blogger who died whilst under police custody in the country.

The foreign ministry in Iran, a country that has been widely criticised in the West for abusing the rights of their citizens, particularly women, also sent a protest note to the Austrian embassy on Monday, arguing that the meeting was unsanctioned and will not help relations between Europe and the country.

Negotiations between Iran and the West have been ongoing in Vienna in the past few months. It is hoped that they can come to an agreement over Iran's ongoing nuclear programme, which many in the west believe is secretly being used to develop nuclear weapons, and trade sanctions placed on the Islamic state by the US and Europe.

Some of these trade sanctions against Iran were temporarily lifted after the country agreed in November to a six month pause in the their nuclear programme.

A spokesman for Ashton dismissed the concerns of the Iranian foreign ministry over the EU representative's recent meeting, arguing that human rights are part of the ongoing discussions to improve the relationship between the West and Iran.

Austria has a slightly less tense relationship with Iran than other European countries, with Austrian business leaders recently visiting the country to explore opportunities following the loosening of trade sanctions.

In February Austria's President Heinz Fischer received an invitation from Iran to visit the country, which if accepted would make Fischer the first Western leader to visit the country since the election there in June last year. Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz also received an invitation, although it has also not been confirmed whether he is to visit the country.

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