Protests pile pressure on Iran after admission of plane strike

Clay Curtis
January 12, 2020

Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, en route to Ukraine's capital of Kyiv, crashed minutes after takeoff from the Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.

The majority of those on the Boeing 737, which slammed into a field shortly after take-off from Tehran, were Iranians and Canadians, and many were students.

Protesters piled pressure on Iran's leadership on Sunday with demands for top authorities to quit after the Iranian military admitted it had mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian airliner at a time when it had feared US strikes.

"Unfortunately under these circumstances, he made this bad decision, the missile was sacked and the plane was hit and turned and the spot that it crashed at was here", he said, pointing to a map.

Kazakhstan's leader has said that all sides must avoid further civilian deaths and work towards de-escalation, after Iran acknowledged that it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane amid fears of war with the US.

Rouhani said that he would give instructions so that the bodies of the killed Ukrainians would be returned home as soon as possible.

Riot police and plainclothes officers could be seen massing in Vali-e Asr Square in Tehran as calls circulated for protests later in the day.

The Guards chief had been expected to speak about Iran's retaliation to the killing of the general on Wednesday when it fired a volley of missiles at United States troops stationed in Iraqi military bases, it said. One Iranian official had said such an explanation was "scientifically" impossible.

After Saturday's protests, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter: "There cannot be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown".

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Police dispersed students at Teheran's Amir Kabir University on Saturday evening after their commemoration for those killed in the disaster turned into an angry demonstration, Fars news agency reported.

"We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage", he said.

Rouhani, who spoke with Trudeau over the phone Saturday, posted on Twitter that an Iranian military investigation concluded "missiles fired due to human error caused the horrific crash".

The Kiev-bound plane was shot down at a time when Iran's armed forces were on a heightened state of alert after launching a volley of missiles at USA troops stationed in Iraqi military bases.

The British foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, condemned the ambassador's arrest as a "flagrant violation of global law" and said Iran was marching towards "pariah status". In another video circulated on social media, demonstrators chanted, "Khamenei have shame!"

The protests were not limited to Tehran. Iran had expected US reprisals.

The crash came hours after Tehran launched missiles at bases hosting American forces in Iraq in response to the killing of top Iranian general Qasem Soleimani in a U.S. drone strike.

Soleimani's funeral had prompted huge public gatherings, which the authorities described a show of national unity. Iranians on social media asked why officials were busy fending off criticism from overseas rather than sympathising with grieving families. Others asked why the plane was allowed to take off at a time of high tension.

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