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Iran girls flee to embassy

Brussels, Dec. 3 (Reuters): Two Iranian girls have taken refuge at Belgium’s embassy in Tehran, abandoning their father and asking to be reunited with their mother in Belgium in a family dispute that threatens to become a diplomatic row.

Yasmine Pourhashemi, 15, and her six-year-old sister Sara, went to the embassy by taxi yesterday after eluding their father, who took them to Iran and stayed in the country after a holiday in Greece in August, a foreign ministry spokesman said.

The two girls have both Belgian and Iranian citizenship. Belgian foreign minister Louis Michel said today he had ordered the embassy to keep the girls until their case was resolved.

“We absolutely owe these kids total protection,” he told the local radio.

Michel later told local television he was ready to go to Iran if it could help bring an end to the dispute. “What I am prepared to do is to go immediately to Iran, but I can’t do that out of my own initiative not to give a feeling that it concerns a provocation,” he told VRT.

The girls’ father, Shahab, faces an international warrant for his arrest for failing to return the girls to their divorced mother in Belgium after the holiday. The mother, Zarah, lives in the eastern Belgian city of Liege and has legal custody over the girls.

“I talked to one of them on the phone and they’re doing fine. I don’t know about the rest,” she said. “I am divorced, but that divorce has no legal bearing in Iran,” she was earlier quoted as saying in the local daily Het Laatste Nieuws.

“A woman is not allowed to leave the country without permission from her husband.”

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