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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday praised Iranians protesting against the election results and said Tehran's "aggressive and violent" behavior made it the greatest threat to world peace.

"I think we have to recognize that the greatest threat is the kind of aggressive and violent behavior that we see coming from Iran," Netanyahu told a news conference in Rome.

"Iran is not only supporting its terrorist proxies that oppose peace - Hezbollah and Hamas - it is also repressing its own people," he said.

"I believe that the courage shown by the people of Iran in facing bullets in the streets for the sake of freedom is something that deserves the salute of free men and women everywhere," said the prime minister.

Also Tuesday, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said his country is expelling two Iranian diplomats after Iran forced two British diplomats to leave.

"Iran yesterday took the unjustified step of expelling two British diplomats over allegations which are absolutely without foundation," Brown told parliament.

"In response to that action, we informed the Iranian ambassador today that we would expel two Iranian diplomats from their embassy in London. I am disappointed that Iran has placed us in this position," he said.

Britain, accused by Iran of fomenting post-election unrest, said it was evacuating the families of diplomats and other officials based in Iran - the first country to do so as Iran's worst internal conflict since the 1979 Islamic Revolution escalated.

Earlier, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said that protests in Iran have led to the "beginnings of change" there, echoing the central theme of President Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign.

"We've seen the beginnings of change in Iran," Gibbs said on NBC's Today Show.

But Gibbs cautioned that Obama will not endorse a general strike there or otherwise get involved with specific actions inside Iran, which has been engulfed by street protests since a disputed June 12 presidential election.

Obama has sharpened his criticism of the Iranian government for cracking down on demonstrators, while trying to avoid the appearance of meddling.

He is expected to address the massive protests at a 12:30 P.M. EDT press conference in the White House Rose Garden.

Obama used "change" as the central theme of his presidential candidacy to emphasize his differences from unpopular Republican incumbent George W. Bush, as well as more-established Democratic rivals like Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Monday urged Iran to immediately cease its use of force against civilians and urged authorities to respect civil rights in dealing with protests over the contested results of the recent presidential election.

A statement issued by Ban's press office said he was dismayed by the post-election violence, "particularly the use of force against civilians."

Demonstrators have been gathering almost daily in Tehran since authorities said incumbent President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had easily defeated challenger Mir Hossein Mousavi in the June 12 vote. According to official count in Tehran, 17 people have been killed in the demonstrations.

In a statement on Monday, Ban called "on the authorities to respect fundamental civil and political rights, especially the freedom of expression, freedom of assembly and freedom of information."

"He urges an immediate stop to the arrests, threats and use of force," said the statement.

The statement also said Ban urged the Iranian government and the opposition to resolve their differences peacefully through dialogue and legal means.

The bulk of the statement made clear that Ban, whose only previous statement on the crisis called for the will of the Iranian people to be fully respected, was directing his main criticism at the authorities.

Ban's rebuke comes after Iran's Revolutionary Guard followed through with its threat to "confront rioters" with live fire. Authorities have also prohibited mosques from holding memorials or publicly mourning the victims of the demonstrations.

Riot police attacked hundreds of demonstrators with tear gas and fired live bullets in the air to disperse a rally in central Tehran on Monday, after the country's most powerful security force threatened to crush any further opposition protests over the disputed presidential election.