About 1,000 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.
Protests took place outside at least two universities, with tear gas reportedly fired.
President Donald Trump tweeted support for the “inspiring” protests.
On January 11, Iran admitted downing the jet “unintentionally”, three days after the crash that killed 176 people.
Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, en route to Kyiv, was shot down on January 8 near Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran shortly after take-off, and only hours after Iran had fired missiles at two air bases housing US forces in Iraq.
Those attacks were Iran’s response to the US killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.
Dozens of Iranians and Canadians, as well as nationals from Ukraine, the UK, Afghanistan and Germany died on the plane.
According to local reports, students gathered outside at least two universities, Sharif and Amir Kabir, initially to pay respect to the victims. Protests turned angry in the evening.
The semi-official Fars news agency carried a rare report of the unrest, saying up to 1,000 people had chanted slogans against leaders and tore up pictures of Qasem Soleimani.
The students called for those responsible for the downing the plane, and those they said had covered up the action, to be prosecuted.
Chants included “commander-in-chief resign”, referring to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and “death to liars”.
According to Fars, police had “dispersed” the protesters, who were blocking roads. Social media footage appeared to show tear gas being fired.
Social media users also vented anger at the government’s actions.
The protests were, however, far smaller than the mass demonstrations across Iran in support of Qasem Soleimani after he was killed.
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.”
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.”
For three days, Iran had denied reports its missiles had brought down the Ukraine jet, with one spokesman accusing Western nations of “lying and engaging in psychological warfare”.
However, on January 11, a statement read on state TV accepted the plane had been shot down.
Brig-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace commander, explained what happened.
The general said a missile operator had acted independently and alone, mistaking the plane for a “cruise missile” as there had been reports that such missiles had been fired at Iran.
In a statement read on state TV on January 11, Iran has admitted it “unintentionally” shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet.
According to the statement, the flight PS752 had turned towards a “sensitive military center” of the Revolutionary Guards, the force set up to defend Iran’s Islamic system, and had a “flying posture and altitude of an enemy target”.
The plane was shot down on January 8, hours after Iran had struck two air bases housing US forces in Iraq.
Those missile strikes were Iran’s response to the US killing of senior Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani. He died in a drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.
Iran had initially denied reports its missiles had brought down the plane, with one spokesman accusing Western nations of “lying and engaging in psychological warfare”.
Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, en route to Kyiv, came down near Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran shortly after take-off. Victims included dozens of Iranians and Canadians, as well as nationals from Ukraine, the UK, Afghanistan and Germany.
Brig-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace commander, said a missile operator had acted independently and alone, mistaking the plane for a “cruise missile” as there had been reports that such missiles had been fired at Iran.
He said: “He had 10 seconds to decide. He could have decided to strike or not to strike and under such circumstances he took the wrong decision.
“He was obliged to make contact and get verification. But apparently, his communications system had some disruptions.”
General Hajizadeh said the military would upgrade its systems to prevent such “mistakes” in the future.
He said he had “wished he was dead” after being told of the missile strike.
The general also said a request had been made for a no-fly zone in the area before the incident but, for reasons that are unclear, this was rejected.
He said he had informed the authorities about what had happened on January 8, raising questions about why Iran had denied involvement for so long.
Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelensky has demanded Iran “bring the guilty to the courts”, repatriate the remains of the victims, pay compensation, give total access to Ukrainian officials and issue an apology through diplomatic channels.
Meanwhile, Ayatollah Khamenei said there was “proof of human error” and that he had asked “relevant authorities to take necessary measures to prevent” such an incident happening again.
Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said: “Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake.”
The president vowed to prosecute those responsible.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif apologized to the families of the victims but laid part of the blame on the US. “Human error at a time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to [this] disaster,” he said.
Some video footage on social media has shown protests in central Tehran, with people calling for resignations and accusing officials of dishonesty.
Protests were reported at the Sharif and Amir Kabir universities.
Some demonstrators chanted for the resignation of the commander in chief – Ayatollah Khamenei.
The semi-official Fars news agency carried a rare report of the anti-government unrest, saying up to 1,000 people had gathered, chanting slogans against leaders and tearing up pictures of Gen. Qasem Soleimani.
A number of social media users asked why Iranian officials had not accepted responsibility earlier, appearing only to do so after international pressure.
President Donald Trump has threatened Iraq with severe sanctions after its parliament called on US troops to leave the country.
The president told reporters: “We have a very extraordinarily expensive air base that’s there. It cost billions of dollars to build. We’re not leaving unless they pay us back for it.”
Tensions are high after the US assassinated Iranian General Qasem Soleimani in Baghdad last week.
Meanwhile, Iran has vowed “severe revenge”.
The 62-year-old general spearheaded Iranian military operations in the Middle East and was regarded as a terrorist by the US.
Qasem Soleimani’s remains have now returned to Iran, where mourners packed the streets of Tehran on January 6.
Esmail Qaani, the new head of Iran’s Quds force – which Qasem Soleimani led – has vowed to expel the US from the Middle East.
Iran’s state radio quoted Esmail Qaani as saying: “We promise to continue martyr Soleimani’s path with the same force… and the only compensation for us would be to remove America from the region.”
The air strike that killed Qasem Soleimani also claimed the life of Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a top Iraqi military figure who commanded the Iranian-backed Kataib Hezbollah group.
Speaking from the presidential plane, President Trump said that if Iraq asked US forces to depart on an unfriendly basis, “we will charge them sanctions like they’ve never seen before, ever. It’ll make Iranian sanctions look somewhat tame”.
Some 5,000 US soldiers are in Iraq as part of the international coalition against the ISIS group.
On January 5, the coalition paused its operations against ISIS in Iraq, and Iraqi lawmakers passed a non-binding resolution calling for foreign troops to leave.
The resolution was pushed through by the parliament’s Shia Muslim bloc – which is close to Iran.
Meanwhile, Iran has announced it will no longer abide by restrictions imposed by the 2015 nuclear deal, under which it agreed to limit its sensitive nuclear activities and allow in international inspectors in return for the lifting of economic sanctions.
President Trump abandoned the deal in 2018, saying he wanted to force Iran to negotiate a new deal that would place indefinite curbs on its nuclear program and also halt its development of ballistic missiles.
However, Iran refused and had since been gradually rolling back its commitments under the deal.
In a statement, Iran said it would no longer observe limitations on its capacity for enrichment, the level of enrichment, the stock of enriched material, or research and development.
European leaders, from Germany, France and the UK – which were all signatories to the 2015 deal, alongside China and Russia – responded with a joint statement urging Iran to refrain from “further violent action or proliferation”.
Thousands of Iranians have gathered in the city of Ahvaz, southwest of Iran, on January 5 to receive the remains of General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad.
The mourners beat their chests and chanted “death to America”.
Qasem Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s sphere of influence across the Middle East and he was considered to be the country’s second most powerful man.
The assassination of the top military commander marked a significant escalation between Iran and the US.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who had a close personal relationship with Qasem Soleimani, warned of “severe revenge” for the attack.
President Donald Trump, who authorized the attack on Qasem Soleimani on January 3 – an option refused by both Presidents Bush and Obama as too risky – said in a tweet that the US was ready to strike 52 sites “important to Iran & the Iranian culture”.
In a series of tweets likely to raise concerns about a path to war between the two countries, President Trump said the US would strike Iran “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” if Iran targeted American bases or troops.
He said the 52 targets identified by the US represented 52 Americans who were held hostage in Iran for more than a year from late 1979 after they were taken from the US embassy in Tehran.
President Trump warned: “The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way…and without hesitation!”
Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded on Twitter, saying that the killing of Qasem Soleimani was a breach of international law and that any targeting of cultural sites would be constitute a war crime.
Thousands of black-clad mourners gathered early on Sunday morning in the streets in Ahvaz, where Qasem Soleimani’s body had arrived before dawn.
The Irib state news agency showed footage of Qasem Soleimani’s casket, wrapped in an Iranian flag, being unloaded from a plane as a military band played, before it was flown on to Ahvaz.
The channel showed crowds gathered in the city’s Mollavi Square, waving flags and holding aloft portraits of Qasem Soleimani, who is seen by many in Iran as a hero because of his role as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and his closeness to the supreme leader.
In the capital Tehran, members of parliament chanted “death to America” for a few minutes during a session of the house, the ISNA news agency reported.
Iran’s military commander Qasem Soleimani was killed by an air strike at Baghdad airport on January 3 ordered by President Donald Trump, the Pentagon has confirmed.
The 62-year-old general spearheaded Iran’s Middle East operations as head of the elite Quds Force.
President Trump said the US took its action to stop, not start, a war. However, the killing marks a major escalation in tensions.
According to US officials, 3,000 additional troops will be sent to the Middle East as a precaution.
Qasem Soleimani was widely seen as the second most powerful figure in Iran, behind Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Quds Force, an elite unit of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), reported directly to the ayatollah and Qasem Soleimani was hailed as a heroic national figure.
Under his 21-year leadership of the Quds Force, Iran bolstered Hezbollah and other pro-Iranian militant groups in Lebanon; expanded its military presence in Iraq and Syria; and orchestrated Syria’s offensive against rebel groups in that country’s long civil war.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US wanted to de-escalate the situation, but that the strike was “lawful” and “saved lives”.
Later he thanked Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for Saudi Arabia’s “steadfast support” and “for recognizing aggressive threats posed by Iran’s Quds force”, the state department said.
Meanwhile, tens of thousands of Iranians have been holding rallies in Tehran and other cities, denouncing what they call US crimes.
Meanwhile, global oil price rose sharply in the wake of the attack.
Iran’s Ayatollah Khamenei said “severe revenge awaits the criminals” behind the attack. Qasem Soleimani’s death would double “resistance” against the US and Israel, he added.
The ayatollah also announced three days of national mourning. He would lead prayers at a funeral ceremony for the general in Tehran on January 5, Iranian media quoted Qasem Soleimani’s family as saying.
Later, the Supreme National Security Council, Iran’s top security body, said the US would be held responsible for its “criminal adventurism”.
It said in a statement: “This was the biggest US strategic blunder in the West Asia region, and America will not easily escape its consequences.”
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif called the attack an “act of international terrorism”.