Middle East

Iran urges US to free detainees after hiker released

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Media captionSarah Shourd: "We committed no crime and are not spies"

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has urged the US to release Iranian citizens after Tehran freed on bail a US hiker it accuses of spying.

Mr Ahmadinejad said the US government should make a humanitarian gesture to release eight Iranians "illegally detained" in the United States.

His remarks came as the released hiker, Sarah Shourd, arrived in the US.

Ms Shourd, who was held in Iran for more than 13 months, repeated that she and her friends were not spies.

Ms Shourd called her arrest and that of her fellow hikers "a huge misunderstanding", and called for the release of her fiance, Shane Bauer, and their friend Josh Fattal.

"This is not the time to celebrate," she said at a news conference in New York.

"The only thing that enabled me to cross the gulf from prison to freedom alone was the knowledge that Shane and Josh wanted with all their hearts for my suffering to end."

Iran says the hikers are spies and will be tried.

Topple call

Earlier on Sunday, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called for Iran's "responsible" leaders to assert control there.

Speaking as Mr Ahmadinejad arrived in New York for the annual session of the UN General Assembly, she warned of the growing power of the Iranian military.

She said elected officials in Iran were increasingly turning to the security forces to enforce their authority, because the flawed nature of last year's presidential election had undermined their democratic legitimacy.

"I can only hope that there will be some effort inside Iran, by responsible civil and religious leaders to take hold of the apparatus of the state," Mrs Clinton said.

In an interview with US TV network ABC news, Mr Ahmadinejad said Mrs Clinton should think before she spoke. "How would she feel if we were to just fabricate statements?" he said.

On his call for the release of Iranians held in the US he told ABC: "Now you may be aware that eight Iranians are illegally detained in the US. So I believe that it would not be misplaced to ask the US government to make a humanitarian gesture and release the Iranians who were illegally arrested and detained here in the United States."

Separately on Sunday, Iran's state-owned TV denied a report from the semi-official Fars news agency that Iranian forces had detained seven US troops trying to enter the country.

Fars had earlier said that: "Recently seven American troops were detained by Iranian guards in a south-eastern province of the country... Two Iranians accompanying the troops were also arrested".

US officials denied any troops had been arrested. South-east Iran borders on Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The BBC's Jon Leyne in Cairo says the Fars news agency is known to be close to Iran's Revolutionary Guards, but this time it appears to have been spectacularly wrong.

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