Calls for nationwide protests in Iran over plane's downing

Part of the wreckage of the Ukrainian plane that was shot down outside Teheran on Jan 8, killing all 176 people on board. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE Iranian students lighting a candle during a memorial ceremony in Teheran on Tuesday for the passenge
Iranian students lighting a candle during a memorial ceremony in Teheran on Tuesday for the passengers of the Ukraine International Airlines jetliner that was shot down. Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said that some of those accused of having a role in the plane disaster had been arrested, although he did not say how many or identify them. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
Part of the wreckage of the Ukrainian plane that was shot down outside Teheran on Jan 8, killing all 176 people on board. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE Iranian students lighting a candle during a memorial ceremony in Teheran on Tuesday for the passenge
Part of the wreckage of the Ukrainian plane that was shot down outside Teheran on Jan 8, killing all 176 people on board. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Iranians go on social media to rally people even as first arrests are made over downed jet

DUBAI • Iranians called on social media yesterday for fresh demonstrations a week after the shooting down of a passenger plane, seeking to turn the aftermath of the crash into a sustained campaign against Iran's leadership.

"We're coming to the streets," one post circulating on social media said yesterday, urging people to join nationwide demonstrations against a "thieving and corrupt government".

The calls for more protests came as Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said some of those accused of having a role in the plane disaster had been arrested, although he did not say how many or identify them.

Since the government's admission of responsibility for shooting down the plane, protesters - many of them students - have held daily demonstrations, chanting "Clerics get lost!" and calling for the removal of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has been in power for more than 30 years.

Police have responded to some protests with a violent crackdown, video posts on social media showed, with police beating protesters with batons, wounded people being carried away, pools of blood on the streets and the sound of gunfire.

A video that emerged on Tuesday showed an officer using an electric baton to shock a man as he writhed on the ground.

Thousands of protesters have been shown in videos gathering in the past four days in cities across Iran. Many protests have been outside universities. Teheran's central Azadi Square has also been a focus.

But the scale of protests and unrest is difficult to determine due to restrictions on independent reporting. The state-affiliated media has offered few details on rallies.

Police have denied shooting at protesters and say officers were told to show restraint. The judiciary said it had arrested 30 people but would show tolerance to "legal protests".

The protests on Tuesday appeared to have been quieter. Two months ago, the Iranian authorities killed hundreds of demonstrators to put down protests sparked by fuel price hikes.

It remains to be seen whether the current protests will lead to sustained violence.

Most of those killed on the plane were Iranians or dual citizens, many of them students returning to studies abroad from holiday visits with their families.

The plane was downed by Iranian air defences on Jan 8 when the armed forces were on high alert for US reprisals following tit-for-tat military strikes, the latest escalation in a crisis that has rumbled on for years over Iran's nuclear programme.

The Iranian military and top officials have apologised profusely for the "unforgivable error" that brought the plane down and said the authorities would prosecute those who were to blame, in a bid to quell the outrage.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said a person who had posted a video online last week of a missile striking the plane has been taken into custody by the Revolutionary Guards, the elite force that said one of its operators shot down the plane.

Iranians were outraged that the military took days to admit it had shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight PS752. They asked why the passenger plane had been allowed to take off at a time of high tension.

The disaster and unrest have piled pressure on Iran's rulers, who are already struggling to keep the economy running under stringent US sanctions imposed after Washington withdrew from the nuclear pact that Teheran had with world powers.

Today, London will host a meeting involving Canada, Ukraine, Britain and other nations which had citizens on the downed plane to discuss legal action against Iran, Ukraine said.

Canada, which had 57 citizens on the flight, has sent investigators to Iran, where they toured the crash site on Tuesday, Iranian media reported.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 16, 2020, with the headline 'Calls for nationwide protests in Iran over plane's downing'. Print Edition | Subscribe