World

Iran protesters take to streets over downed plane

President apologises as anger boils up after days of denials by officials

DUBAI: Protesters piled pressure on Iran's leadership yesterday with demands for top officials to quit after the Iranian military admitted it had mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian airliner at a time when it feared US strikes.

"They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here," dozens of protesters outside a university in Teheran chanted, according to videos posted on Twitter. Scores of demonstrators were also shown gathered in other cities.

The social media posts could not be verified by Reuters.

But state-affiliated media had reported protests on Saturday shortly after the Iranian military apologised for mistakenly bringing down the Ukrainian plane on Wednesday, killing all 176 aboard. Iran had fired missiles at a US base in Iraq in retaliation for a US drone attack that killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani. They mistook the airliner for a cruise missile sent in response.

Teheran residents said police were out in force in the capital yesterday, as public anger boiled up following days of denials by the military that it was to blame, even as Canada and the US said a missile had brought the plane down.

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

PEOPLE'S DEMAND

"Apologise and resign," Iran's moderate Etemad daily wrote in a banner headline yesterday, saying the "people's demand" was for those responsible for mishandling the plane crisis to quit.

Many of those on board were Iranians with dual citizenship, while 57 were holders of Canadian passports.

Iran's President said it was a "disastrous mistake" and apologised. A top Revolutionary Guard commander added to public fury when he said he had told the authorities on the same day as the crash that an Iranian missile had struck the plane.

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

"Iran's enemies want to take revenge on the Guards for a military mistake," said Mr Ali Shirazi, Ayatollah Khamenei's representative to the Quds Force, an elite Guard unit, state media reported.

After Saturday's protests, US President Donald Trump tweeted: "There cannot be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an Internet shutdown. The world is watching." - REUTERS

WORLD