CAIRO (Reuters) - Hardline Sunni Islamists tried to break into a senior Iranian diplomat's residence in Cairo on Friday in protest at warming ties with Tehran after a 30-year estrangement, but were repelled by Egyptian police, a Reuters witness said.
About 100 members of two purist Salafist groups demonstrated against Egypt's recent steps to improve relations with Iran, which were cut off after the 1979 Iranian Islamic revolution.
The protesters tore down an Iranian flag at the residence in a Cairo suburb and briefly hoisted the Syrian rebel flag in protest at Iran's support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's government before police removed it.
The ultra-conservative Salafi protesters are, like most Egyptians, Sunni Muslims. They are concerned about what they see as Iranian efforts to spread Shi'ite Islam in Sunni countries.
Iran's charge d'affaires, Mojtaba Amani, said in comments carried by the Egyptian state news agency MENA after the protest at his home that allegations that Shi'ite Islam was being spread in Egypt were a "major lie".
"Sunni Egypt" is a source of strength to Iran, he said.
The protesters chanted slogans against Iran and Shi'ite Islam and criticized the government's recent decision to allow Iranian tourists to visit Egypt. Relations have improved significantly since the election of Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, a member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, last June.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad visited Egypt for an Islamic summit in February, the first visit by an Iranian leader in more than three decades. He called for a strategic alliance with Egypt and offered Cairo a loan as it faces a deepening economic crisis.
(Reporting By Maggie Fick; Editing by Paul Taylor and Stephen Powell)