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Iran and UK in row over airport

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TEHRAN, Iran (Reuters) -- Hardline Iranian politicians called on the government on Sunday to sever all diplomatic ties with Britain in a rapidly escalating row over the opening of a new airport serving Tehran.

Britain and Canada issued warnings on Friday to travellers to avoid using the Imam Khomeini International Airport, which opened on Saturday, due to concerns the runway may be unsafe.

Iranian transport officials rejected the travel advisories and said the airport and runway had been inspected and approved by the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).

Hardline politicians ignored the dispute over safety and focused their ire on an alleged request by London that the name of the airport, dedicated to the founding father of the 1979 Islamic revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, be changed.

"If Britain does not apologise to Iran we will break all ties with that country and expel Britain's ambassador," said Hamid Reza Hajibabaei, a member of parliament's presiding board.

"If true, we should ... not allow any British nationals to enter our country and we should naturally cut economic ties with that country," agreed Hossein Shariatmadari, editor-in-chief of the hardline Kayhan newspaper.

The British embassy in Tehran rejected the accusation as "nonsense".

"We have never requested that the name of the airport be changed," said Charge d'Affaires Matthew Gould. "Our only consideration is for the safety of the runway."

He said Britain had received reports about the existence of ancient irrigation channels, known as qanats, beneath the runway which could impair its strength and was urgently seeking reassurances from the ICAO and the Iranian government that corrective measures would be taken.

The first flights to and from the airport, located 30 miles (48 km) south of Tehran, began on Saturday with routes serving the nearby Gulf city of Dubai. Additional routes are due to be transferred there from Tehran's Mehrabad International Airport in the coming months.

Dubai-based Emirates airline said on Saturday it was satisfied the airport was safe.

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