Protests over downed plane pile pressure on Iran's leaders

VIDEO: REUTERS

Call for top authorities to quit as public fury mounts after Iran military admits mistake

DUBAI • Protesters piled pressure on Iran's leadership yesterday with demands for the top authorities to quit after the Iranian military admitted it had mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian airliner at a time of soaring tensions with the United States.

"They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here," hundreds of protesters outside a university in Teheran chanted, according to video clips posted on Twitter.

Scores of demonstrators were also shown gathered in other cities.

Iran's security forces were deployed in large numbers across the capital, with riot police in black uniforms and helmets massed at Vali-e Asr Square, Teheran University and other landmarks as calls circulated for protests later in the day.

Public fury at the Iranian authorities has grown after the military apologised for mistakenly bringing down the Ukrainian plane last Wednesday, killing all 176 aboard.

Pentagon chief Mark Esper suggested that Iran's government is under internal threat following its downing of the civilian airliner.

"You can see the Iranian people are standing up and asserting their rights, their aspirations for a better government - a different regime," he told CBS' Face The Nation yesterday.

But Mr Esper said Iran deserves credit for taking responsibility for the disaster. "My hunch is it was an accident," he said, adding that although Iranian government officials initially blamed American propaganda, they ultimately "did the right thing by admitting it".

Mr Esper said the Trump administration foresees no more Iranian military attacks in retaliation for the US strike that killed the Islamic republic's most powerful general.

Iran's Quds Force still presents a threat, but the specific attacks being planned by Major-General Qassem Soleimani have been "disrupted", he added.

Mr Esper also said the Trump administration's offer to negotiate a new nuclear deal with Iran without preconditions still stands.

 
 

Riot police fired tear gas at thousands of protesters in Teheran on Saturday, where many had chanted "Death to the dictator", directing their anger at Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei.

Iranians on social media asked why officials were busy fending off criticism from abroad rather than sympathising with grieving families. Others asked why the plane was allowed to take off at a time of high tension.

The protesters are also mourning the dead, among whom were a large number of young people with promising futures who were studying abroad.

"Even talking about it makes my heart beat faster and makes me sad. I feel ashamed when I think about their families," said Ms Zahra Razeghi, a Teheran resident.

"The denial and covering up of the truth over the past three days greatly added to the suffering and pain of the families and me."

 
 

But others said Iran's enemies, a term usually used to refer to Washington and its allies, were exploiting the incident.

In a tweet yesterday, US President Donald Trump said: "To the leaders of Iran - do not kill your protesters. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the world is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your Internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!"

ASSOCIATED PRESS, REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2020, with the headline 'Protests over downed plane pile pressure on Iran's leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe