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AFP
January 13, 2020

Anti-govt demos in Iran gather momentum

Top Story

AFP
January 13, 2020

WASHINGTON/IRAN: US President Donald Trump on Saturday said the United States was monitoring Iranian demonstrations closely, warning against any new "massacre" as protests broke out after Tehran admitted to shooting down a passenger plane.

Iran said earlier it unintentionally downed a Ukrainian jetliner outside Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard, in an abrupt about-turn after initially denying Western claims it was struck by a missile. The firing came shortly after Iran launched missiles at bases in Iraq housing American forces.

President Hassan Rouhani said a military probe into the tragedy had found "missiles fired due to human error" brought down the Boeing 737, calling it an "unforgivable mistake."

Iran’s armed forces said on Saturday the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing737 was mistakenly shot down, after denying for days Western claims it was brought down by a missile.

Trump told Iranians -- in tweets in both English and Farsi -- that he stands by them and is monitoring the demonstrations.

"To the brave, long-suffering people of Iran: I´ve stood with you since the beginning of my Presidency, and my Administration will continue to stand with you," he tweeted.

"There cannot be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown. The world is watching," he added, apparently referring to an Iranian crackdown on street protests that broke out in November.

"We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage," he said.

The new demonstrations follow an Iranian crackdown on street protests that broke out in November. Amnesty International has said it left more than 300 people dead.

Internet access was reportedly cut off in multiple Iranian provinces ahead of memorials planned a month after the protests.

In a related development, the Revolutionary Guards commander briefed parliament on downing the Ukrainian plane.

Major General Hossein Salami briefed parliament about the general´s killing, Iran´s retaliation and the downing of the airliner, semi-official news agency ISNA said.

At the end of the session, speaker Ali Larijani asked the Majles´ security and foreign policy commission to examine the air disaster and how to prevent such incidents from occurring again, ISNA said.

Newspapers called for resignations and sackings over the handling of the air disaster. Sazandegi, a moderate conservative publication, also apologised to its readers for having trusted official sources on the matter.

"Apologise, resign," said the main headline of the reformist Etemad daily. "Unforgivable," said government newspaper Iran, which published all the names of those who died in the air disaster on the image of black plane tail.

Kayhan, a hardline daily, led on the supreme leader´s "strict orders" to follow up on the "painful incident of the plane crash". As public anger grew, state television aired interviews with people who it said "have not forgotten everything the Guards have done for the country".

Britain´s ambassador to Tehran meanwhile took to Twitter to deny he had attended the demonstration before being arrested.

"Can confirm I wasn´t taking part in any demonstrations! Went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of #PS752 tragedy," Macaire said, adding he had been detained half an hour after leaving the area.

"Normal to want to pay respects -- some of victims were British. I left after 5 mins, when some started chanting," he tweeted.

The arrest triggered diplomatic protests, with London calling it a violation of international law and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell added his voice to the chorus of condemnation. "Very concerned about the temporary detention of the UK Ambassador @HMATehran in Iran. Full respect of the Vienna convention is a must. The EU calls for de-escalation and space for diplomacy," Borrell tweeted.

Iran´s Mehr news agency said Macaire was arrested for his alleged "involvement in provoking suspicious acts" at the gathering in front of the university.

Meanwhile, a volley of rockets slammed into an Iraqi airbase north of Baghdad where US forces have been based, wounding four local troops, the Iraqi military said on Sunday. Its statement said eight Katyusha-type rockets landed on Al-Balad airbase, wounding two Iraqi officers and two airmen.

Al-Balad is the main airbase for Iraq´s F-16s, which it bought from the US to upgrade its air capacities.

The base had held a small US Air Force contingent as well as American contractors, but a majority had been evacuated following tensions between the US and Iran over the past two weeks, military sources told AFP.

"About 90 percent of the US advisers, and employees of Sallyport and Lockheed Martin who are specialised in aircraft maintenance, have withdrawn to Taji and Erbil after threats," one of the sources said. "There are no more than 15 US soldiers and a single plane at al-Balad," the source added.