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January 15, 2020

Ukraine airline downing: Iran announces arrests

Top Story

January 15, 2020

TEHRAN: Iran on Tuesday said arrests had been made in connection with the downing of a Ukrainian airliner by mistake, as the president called for a special court to investigate the crash that set off days of anti-government protests.

Gholamhossein Esmaili, a spokesman for Iran’s judiciary, said Tuesday “some individuals” have been arrested over the past three days after “extensive investigations,” but he did not provide any details about the identities of the suspects or say how many people have been detained.

An Iranian air defense battery shot down the plane last week, killing all 176 people on board during a hair-trigger standoff with the United States after a US drone strike killed Iran’s powerful Quds Force commander Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, earlier this month, international media reports.

Tehran retaliated last Wednesday, firing more than a dozen ballistic missiles at facilities in Iraq hosting US troops. In the hours after those attacks, Iran’s Islamic

Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 with a surface-to-air missile. It later blamed the strike on “human error.” Listed among the dead were 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, including the crew. Most, if not all, of the Canadians were reported to be of Iranian origin or dual nationals.

Over the next few days, protests flared on the streets of Tehran and other cities, led by students criticizing the missile strike and the initial denials. They chanted rare denunciations of Iran’s leadership, putting the government on the defensive.

The protests continued Tuesday. Videos posted on social media showed dozens of students gathered at the University of Tehran. “Bisharaf! Bisharaf!” they chanted in Farsi, using a term that translates as “dishonorable,” as riot police stood vigil outside the campus. “Our hands are empty. Put away your baton!”

In a speech Tuesday, President Hassan Rouhani addressed the crash at length, calling for a special court “with a high-ranking judge and dozens of experts” to investigate. “This is not a normal case, and the whole world will follow the case in our court,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks posted on his official website.

“Our people know that this accident was the result of an error and mistake, but who was involved and what circumstances led to the accident?” he said. “All of this is true, but it does not mean that we should not address all the root causes of the incident,” he added.

“It is not just the one who pressed the button, but rather there are others, and I want this matter to be explained to people honestly.” Rouhani also appeared to fault military leaders for waiting days to announce that the plane had been shot down, and he urged the authorities “to explain to the public the whole process.”

“It is very important for our people that whoever, at any level, was to blame should be introduced and whoever is to be punished, should be punished,” Rouhani said. “The most important thing is that people have to be sure that such incidents will not happen again.”

"We should assure people that it will not happen again," Rouhani said, adding that his government was "accountable to Iranian and other nations who lost lives in the plane crash".

Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said the victims of Iran-downed jetliner would still be alive were it not for a recent escalation of tensions partly triggered by the US. “I think if there were no tensions, if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families,” he said in an interview with Global television.

He said the international community had been “very, very clear about needing to have a non-nuclear Iran”, but also in “managing the tensions in the region that are brought about by US actions as well”.

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