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Iran police disperse students after air crash tribute turns into anti-govt protest

Protests erupted after Tehran admitted to shooting down the plane [Getty]

Date of publication: 12 January, 2020

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Hundreds of students gathered early in the evening on Saturday to pay respects to those killed in the air disaster before the tribute later turned into an angry anti-government demonstration.
Iranian police dispersed students chanting "radical" slogans during a Saturday gathering in Tehran to honour the 176 people killed when an airliner was mistakenly shot down, Fars news agency reported.

Hundreds of students had gathered early in the evening at Amir Kabir University, in downtown Tehran, to pay respects to those killed in the air disaster before the tribute later turned into an angry anti-government demonstration.

The students chanted slogans denouncing "liars" and demanded the resignation and prosecution of those responsible for downing the plane and allegedly covering up the accidental action.

The anger came after Iran on Saturday said the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 was "unintentionally" shot down on Wednesday shortly after taking off from Tehran's main airport.

All 176 people on board died, mostly Iranians and Canadians, many of whom were students.

Fars, which is close to conservatives, said the protesting students chanted "destructive" and "radical" slogans.

A Guards Corps commander earlier on Saturday admitted a missile operator had fired upon the passenger jet in error, hours after missiles were fired at Iraq in retaliation for the US killing of Major General Qasem Soleimani.

The Islamic republic's armed forces said its air defences had been at a heightened state of alert at the time. The operator had mistaken the Boeing 737 for a "cruise missile" and only had ten seconds to decide whether or not to open fire, Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh said in a televised address on Saturday. 

The news agency said some of the students tore down posters of Soleimani.

Read more: Texts, selfies, and fear of war: The heartbreaking final moments of Iran's plane crash victims

Fars published pictures of demonstrators gathered around a ring of candles during the tribute and a picture of a torn poster bearing the image of a smiling Soleimani.

It said that police "dispersed" them as they left the university and blocked streets, causing a traffic jam.

In an extremely unusual move, state television mentioned the protest, reporting that the students shouted "anti-regime" slogans. 

A video purportedly of the protest circulated online on Saturday evening showing police firing tear gas at protesters and a man getting up after apparently being hit in the leg by a projectile.

It was not possible to verify the location of the video, or when it was filmed.  

Iran's acknowledgement on Saturday that the plane had been shot down in error came after officials had for days categorically denied Western claims that it had been struck by a missile.

The aerospace commander of Iran's Revolutionary Guards accepted full responsibility.

Following Sunday's session, parliament speaker Ali Larijani asked the Majles' security and foreign policy commission to examine the "grave incident" and how to prevent such disasters from occurring again.

On Sunday, newspapers in Iran paid tribute to those killed in the tragedy, many of them with black front pages.

"Apologise, resign," said the main headline of the reformist Etemad daily.

"Unbelievable," read the front-page banner of Arman-e Meli, another reformist newspaper.

"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 supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's "strict orders" to follow up on the "painful incident of the plane crash".

"Deep apology for painful mistake," said the front page of Javan, which is close to the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has ordered his armed forces to address "shortcomings" so that such a disaster does not happen again.

There have been international calls for Iran to carry out a full, independent and transparent investigation into the crash.

Late on Saturday, Ukraine said it would be offering more than $8,000 in financial compensation to the families of its citizens who were killed in the catastrophic plane crash.

Each family will receive the equivalent of $8,300 from the state, the Ukrainian Cabinet said.

President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said in a video address on Saturday that his government will also push Iran to provide separate compensation to the victims' families.

He had just spoken by phone to Iran's president, Hassan Rouhani, and said Tehran promised to prosecute those responsible for the incident.


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