Iranian demonstrators have demanded the resignation of senior leaders and defied a heavy police presence to protest their country’s days of denials that it shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane carrying 176 people.
- Protesters in Iran have demanded an apology and called for the resignations of leaders
- Police briefly detained the British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, during the protests
- US President Donald Trump addressed the country’s leaders in a tweet, urging them not to kill the protesters
The second day of protests on Sunday (local time) was the latest unrest to roil the country’s capital amid soaring tensions with the United States.
Videos posted online showed protesters shouting anti-government slogans and moving through subway stations and sidewalks, many near Azadi Square, after an earlier call for people to demonstrate there.
“They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here,” a group of protesters outside a university in Tehran chanted, according to video clips posted on Twitter.
@BahmanKalbasi Chants in #Tehran in the last hour in reaction to admission of guilt by #Iran’s IRGC in the downing of #UkrainePlaneCrash/#IranPlaneCrash : “Resignation is not enough, prosecutions is what is needed”
Other videos suggested similar protests were taking place in other Iranian cities.
Some online videos purported to show police firing tear gas sporadically, though there was no immediate wholesale crackdown on demonstrators.
Riot police in black uniforms and helmets earlier massed in Vali-e Asr Square, at Tehran University and other landmarks.
Revolutionary Guard members patrolled the city on motorbikes, and plainclothes security men were also out in force.
People looked down as they walked briskly past police, hoping not to draw attention to themselves.
The plane crash early on Wednesday killed everyone on board, mostly Iranians and Iranian-Canadians.
After initially pointing to a technical failure and insisting the armed forces were not to blame, authorities on Saturday admitted to accidentally shooting down the plane in the face of mounting evidence and accusations by Western leaders.
Iran downed the flight as it braced for possible American retaliation after firing ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing US forces.
The missile attack, which caused no casualties, was a response to the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general, in a US airstrike in Baghdad.
‘Denial and covering up the truth’
Iranians have expressed anger over the downing of the plane and the misleading explanations from senior officials in the wake of the tragedy.
They are also mourning the dead, which included many young people who were studying abroad.
“Even talking about it makes my heart beat faster and makes me sad,” Zahra Razeghi, a Tehran resident said.
“I feel ashamed when I think about their families.”
“The denial and covering up the truth over the past three days greatly added to the suffering and pain of the families, and me,” she added.
Earlier on Sunday, hundreds of students gathered at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University to mourn the victims and protest against authorities for concealing the cause of the crash, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported.
Bahareh Arvin, a reformist member of the Tehran City Council, took to social media to say she was resigning in protest at the government’s lies and corruption.
“With the current mechanism, there is no hope of reform,” she said.
Some Iranian artists, including famed director Masoud Kimiai, withdrew from an upcoming international film festival.
Two state TV hosts resigned in protest over the false reporting about the cause of the plane crash.
‘The world is watching’
US President Donald Trump, who has expressed support for past waves of anti-government demonstrations in Iran, addressed the country’s leaders in a tweet, saying “DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS.”
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!
“The World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching,” he tweeted.
Iranians took to the streets in November after the government hiked gas prices, holding large protests in several cities.
The government shut down internet access for days, making it difficult to gauge the scale of the protests and the subsequent crackdown.
Amnesty International later said more than 300 people were killed.
A candlelight ceremony in Tehran turned into a protest, with hundreds of people chanting against the country’s leaders — including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei — and police dispersing them with tear gas.
Police briefly detained the British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, who said he went to the vigil without knowing it would turn into a protest.
“Can confirm I wasn’t taking part in any demonstrations!” he tweeted.
“Went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of #PS752 tragedy. Normal to want to pay respects — some of victims were British. I left after 5 mins, when some started chanting.”
He said he was arrested 30 minutes after leaving the area.
Britain said its envoy was detained “without grounds or explanation” and in “flagrant violation of international law.”
Calls for apology and resignation
Iranian media focused on the admission of responsibility for the crash, with several newspapers calling for those responsible to apologise and resign.
“Apologise and resign,” Iran’s moderate Etemad daily wrote in a banner headline on Sunday, saying the “people’s demand” was for those responsible for mishandling the plane crisis to quit.
The hard-line daily Vatan-e Emrouz bore the front-page headline “A sky full of sadness,” while the Hamshahri daily went with “Shame,” and the IRAN daily said “Unforgivable”.
Mehdi Karroubi, an opposition activist under house arrest, lashed out at Mr Khamenei himself, saying that as commander in chief he was “directly responsible.”
“If you were aware and you let military and security authorities deceive people, then there is no doubt you lack the attributes of constitutional leadership,” he said in a statement.
Criticism of the Supreme Leader is punishable by up to two years in prison.