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Britain said that the trial in Iran on Saturday of Tehran embassy staff member Hossein Rassam was unacceptable and contradicted previous assurances from senior Iranian officials.

"This is completely unacceptable and directly contradicts assurances we have repeatedly been given by senior Iranian officials," a Foreign Office spokeswoman said.

"We deplore these trials and the so-called confessions of prisoners who have been denied their basic human rights," she added.

Iran put dozens of moderates and a French citizen on trial on Saturday for taking part in unrest after a disputed June presidential vote, and riot police used force to break up protests by relatives outside the courtroom.

During Saturday's session, Rassam told the court that Britain was involved in fomenting the unrest, according the IRNA news agency.

He said a budget of 300,000 pounds - or about $500,000 - had been allocated to establish contacts with Iranian political groups, influential individuals and activists, IRNA reported.

The news agency quoted him as saying that he personally established contacts before the election with the campaign headquarters of Mir Hossein Mousavi, the pro-reform candidate who says he was robbed of victory.

"My main responsibility was to gather information from Tehran and other cities by setting up contacts with individuals and influential parties and political groups and to send reports to London. ... The British Embassy, due to its hostile policies in Iran and fear of exposure of its contacts inside Iran, employed local staff to establish such contacts. I established such contacts based on orders from embassy officials," IRNA quoted Rassam as saying from the stand.

Rassam has been charged with espionage and acting against national security, IRNA reported.

The court cases marked the second round of a mass trial of moderates aimed at uprooting the opposition and ending street protests that erupted after the June 12 election which officials say was the "healthiest" vote since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

"Relatives of the defendants and a large group of people gathered in front of the court building on Saturday. When they chanted 'Allahu Akbar' (God is greatest), the riot police attacked them to disperse the crowd," the reformist Mosharekat website said.

"The charges include trying to weaken the position of Velayat-e Faqih (religious jurisprudence) in Iran (and) ... challenging the system's legitimacy," the mass indictment said, according to state television.

The defendants are also charged with "attempting to carry out a velvet revolution ... (and) having close contacts with foreign embassies and media," it said.

Leading moderates say the election was rigged in favour of hardline president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and the resulting dispute has plunged Iran into its biggest internal crisis in 30 years.

At least 26 people were killed and hundreds arrested in the unrest.

Among those on trial are a 24-year-old French language teaching assistant, an Iranian-French local woman employed at the French embassy and an Iranian working for the British embassy.

Also on trial were prominent journalist Ahmad Zeydabadi and leading moderate politicians Ali Tajernia and Hedayat Agha'ie.

"A French woman accused of collecting information and provoking rioters and also a local female French embassy staffer are being tried today," the television said.

French citizen Clotilde Reiss, held in Tehran's Evin Prison, was arrested at a Tehran airport on July 1 on charges of espionage as she tried to leave Iran after spending five months in the central city of Isfahan.

Television showed Reiss, wearing a black Islamic outfit and headscarf, sitting in the front row in the courtroom. It was not clear whether she had a translator when the indictment was read.

France has rejected the charge against Reiss as "baseless" and French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for her immediate release.

The French Foreign Ministry said on Saturday it had no comment on Reiss for now. It said the local embassy staff member, only identified as Afshar, was detained in mid-July.