Tehran: Hundreds of protesters have taken to the streets in Iran’s capital, Tehran, to vent anger at officials, calling them liars for having denied shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane.
A large crowd of students assembled outside Amir Kabir University in downtown Tehran late Saturday for a candle-lit vigil, according to witnesses, before starting chants of “death to the dictator” and “resignation is not enough, a trial is needed!”
Iran admitted it unintentionally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner that it mistook for a cruise missile, a dramatic reversal after days of denials that triggered international condemnation.
Security forces quickly intervened to quell the protests.
Others used social media to vent their anger, contrasting the plane deaths with reports that the attack on the Iraqi bases was designed not to harm Americans.
“You feared hitting Americans, but you’re hitting students and ordinary people. In front of the world you turned to mice before a nation of lions. You’re liars who lack everything,” said one Twitter user.
What has Trump said?
President Trump tweeted in both English and Farsi, saying: “To the brave and suffering Iranian people: I have stood with you since the beginning of my presidency and my government will continue to stand with you.
“We are following your protests closely. Your courage is inspiring.”
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted video of the protests in Iran, saying: “The voice of the Iranian people is clear. They are fed up with the regime’s lies, corruption, ineptitude, and brutality of the IRGC [Revolutionary Guards] under Khamenei’s kleptocracy. We stand with the Iranian people who deserve a better future.”
What happened: Iran’s account
The commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’s aerospace force, Amir Ali Hajizadeh, blamed a failure in communications for the tragedy. The operative who first mistakenly identified the plane as an incoming missile failed to get a second opinion due to a “disturbance” and had only 10 seconds to make a decision, he said.
The army had previously said that “culprits” would be turned over to judicial authorities.
“When I was certain that this incident had occurred, I truly wished death upon myself, because I’d rather have died than witness such an incident,” Hajizadeh said in a briefing Saturday in Tehran.
A blow to national unity
The admission could seriously dent the sense of national unity that built after the Jan. 3 killing by the U.S. of Iran’s top general, Qassem Soleimani - a hero to many Iranians for his work in Iraq and Syria helping to defeat Islamic State.
The three-year-old Boeing Co. 737-800 was shot down about two minutes after takeoff from Tehran on Wednesday. The tragedy occurred hours after Iran started launching rockets against Iraqi bases where U.S. forces are stationed, in retaliation for the assassination of Soleimani.
Nearly half the 176 victims were Iranians, while many of the other passengers were of Iranian ancestry and citizens of countries including Canada, Sweden and the U.K., a reflection of the ambition that pushes thousands to leave Iran each year to work and study in the West.
Calls for justice
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his British counterpart Boris Johnson called for justice for the victims, and signaled that the disaster reinforced the need for a de-escalation of hostilities in the Gulf.
A senior Trump administration official, who declined to be identified, said the tragedy showed Iran’s “reckless actions have again had devastating consequences.”
“The morning was not good today but it brought the truth,” Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said after the Iranian announcement. He urged Iran to take action against those responsible, and pay compensation.
“We hope further investigations will be done without artificial delays and obstacles,” he said.
The government’s admission that Iran’s security forces hold ultimate responsibility for the downing of the plane - albeit at a time of conflict with their chief foe - is a further blow for the country’s ruling clerics at a time when the economy has been devastated by U.S. sanctions.