Iran protests to Azerbaijan over spy trial

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran angrily protested to Azerbaijan on Sunday and summoned its ambassador over "baseless" accusations that Iranian secret services were plotting a coup in the former Soviet republic.

A court in Azerbaijan on December 10 convicted a group of more than a dozen people on charges that they had been cooperating with Iranian special services to mount a coup against the government of President Ilham Aliyev.

"It is a baseless allegation levelled at the Islamic Republic of Iran," foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini told reporters. "Unfortunately it is supported by wide propaganda."

The Iranian foreign ministry also summoned the Azeri ambassador to Tehran Abbasali Hassanov, calling for a formal apology from Azeri officials for the statements made against Iran, the official IRNA agency reported.

Hosseini blamed Iran's foreign enemies for plotting to damage the ties between Iran and its fellow Shiite northern neighbour.

"We believe that there are foreign elements involved and they are trying to create a difficult situation in the friendly ties with Azerbaijan," he said.

"The Azerbaijan government, instead of acting on baseless information should provide us with documents" proving the accusations, he added.

Despite growing trade links, relations between Baku and Tehran have on occasion been prickly, with disputes over oil reserves in the Caspian Sea and the status of the large ethnic-Azeri minority in Iran.

The alleged chief plotter Said Dadashbeyli was sentenced to 14 years in prison while 14 others were handed sentences of between two and 14 years.

Members of the group were arrested in January and charged with high treason, plotting a coup, being in possession of illegal weapons and manufacturing false documents.

No other details of the alleged plot have emerged. The verdict was announced after a two-month trial held behind closed doors on state security grounds.