TEHERAN • Police in Teheran have been ordered to show "restraint" at demonstrations that erupted after the shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger jet, the Iranian capital's police chief said yesterday.
This came after US President Donald Trump tweeted on Sunday to Iran's leaders: "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!"
General Hossein Rahimi said "the police treated the people who had gathered with patience and tolerance" in a second night of demonstrations in Teheran on Sunday.
"The police did not shoot at the gatherings at all because a restraint order (had been issued)," he said in a statement published by state TV.
Protesters denouncing Iran's clerical rulers took to the streets yesterday, in a third day of demonstrations after the authorities last Saturday acknowledged shooting down the Ukraine International Airlines jet by accident. All 176 people on board Flight PS752, mostly Iranians and Canadians, were killed.
Demonstrations in Iran - some apparently met by a violent crackdown - have become the latest consequence of one of the most destabilising escalations between the United States and Iran since the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
Video footage from inside Iran showed students yesterday chanting slogans, including "Clerics get lost!" outside universities in the city of Isfahan - a major city south of the capital - and in Teheran, where riot police were filmed taking up positions on the streets of the capital.
Images emerged from the previous two days of protests, showing wounded people being carried and pools of blood on the ground, while the sound of gunfire could be heard.
Mr Trump raised the stakes earlier this month by ordering the killing of Iran's most powerful military commander.
Iran shot down the Boeing airliner after it took off from Teheran last Wednesday, hours after Iran had fired at US targets in Iraq in retaliation against the killing of Major-General Qassem Soleimani on Jan 3 in a drone strike in Baghdad.
Scores, possibly hundreds, of protesters were videoed at several sites in Teheran and Isfahan.
"They killed our elites and replaced them with clerics," demonstrators chanted at a protest outside a university in Teheran yesterday, referring to Iranian students returning to their studies in Canada who were among those killed on the flight.
Germany's foreign ministry said yesterday that the Iranian people must be allowed to "protest peacefully and freely" and express their "grief and also their anger" after the plane disaster.
Teheran's showdown with Washington has come at a precarious time for the authorities in Iran and the proxy forces they support to wield influence across the Middle East. Sanctions imposed by Mr Trump have caused deep harm to the Iranian economy.
The Iranian authorities killed hundreds of protesters last November in what appears to have been the bloodiest crackdown on anti-government unrest since the 1979 Revolution. In Iraq and Lebanon, governments that have the support of Iran-backed armed groups have also faced months of hostile mass demonstrations.
The recent flare-up began last December when rockets fired at US bases in Iraq killed a US contractor. Washington blamed pro-Iran militia and launched air strikes that killed at least 25 fighters. After the militia surrounded the US embassy in Baghdad for two days, Mr Trump ordered the strike on Maj-Gen Soleimani, known as the architect of Iran's network of regional proxies.
Five nations whose citizens died when Flight PS752 was shot down will meet in London on Thursday to discuss possible legal action, Ukraine's Foreign Minister said. Speaking on the sidelines of an official visit to Singapore yesterday, Mr Vadym Prystaiko said the five nations were Ukraine, Canada, Sweden, Afghanistan and a fifth country which he did not name.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE