‘World is watching,’ Trump warns Tehran amid mass rallies over plane downing

‘World is watching,’ Trump warns Tehran amid mass rallies over plane downing
‘World is watching,’ Trump warns Tehran amid mass rallies over plane downing

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - The world is watching, United States President Donald Trump warned Tehran overnight on Sunday as thousands took to the streets across Iran to express anger at the government after it admitted downing a passenger plane that killed 176 people.

Protesters in Tehran chanted “Death to Khamenei” in reference to the country’s all-powerful supreme leader and demanded the resignation of top officials hours after the country’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps admitted mistakenly shooting down Ukraine International Airlines flight 752.

It killed all on board, including 82 Iranians.

The plane was shot down early on Wednesday, hours after Iran launched a ballistic missile attack on two military bases housing US troops in Iraq in retaliation for the killing of Suleimani.

“Commander-in-chief resign, resign,” hundreds chanted in front of Tehran’s Amirkabir University in footage shared online.

Other online videos showed protesters cheering as they tore down banners of Suleimani and Mr Khamenei. Other footage appeared to show crowds chanting “Revolutionary guards, you are the same as ISIS.”

Protests spread from Tehran to Shiraz, Esfahan, Hamedan and Orumiyeh.

A leader of Iran's opposition Green Movement, Mehdi Karroubi, called on Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, the top authority in the Islamic Republic, to step down over the handling of the shooting down of the Ukrainian airliner.

In a statement posted online, Mr Karroubi asked when Mr Khamenei was told about the shooting down of the plane after it took off from Tehran and why there had been a delay in informing the public about the real reasons for the crash.

Meanwhile, Britain’s Foreign Office confirmed late on Saturday that the country’s ambassador in Tehran had been briefly detained by Iranian authorities. The Tehran-based Tasnim news agency said the envoy was arrested for several hours in front of Amirkabir University for inciting anti-government protesters.

“The arrest of our Ambassador in Tehran without grounds or explanation is a flagrant violation of international law,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said in a statement.

“The Iranian government is at a crossroads moment. It can continue its march towards pariah status with all the political and economic isolation that entails, or take steps to de-escalate tensions and engage in a diplomatic path forwards,” Mr Raab said.

Mr Trump, who has said he does not seek “regime change” in Iran, took to Twitter to express his support for the demonstrators, writing: “We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage.”

“The government of Iran must allow human rights groups to monitor and report facts from the ground on the ongoing protests by the Iranian people. There can not be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown. The world is watching,” Trump wrote.

Despite denials, Iran now faces accusations of attempting to cover up the incident. Debris from the crash site was being cleared soon after the Wednesday’s downing and Tehran refused to hand over the black boxes to international investigators saying that their own analysis would tack several months and the full investigation would last up to a year.

Crash investigation experts sounded the alarm that the removal of debris and the fact the site was not cordoned off to the public risked contaminating the evidence and leaving experts unable to fully ascertain the causes of the crash.

Despite the apparent attempts, Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Saturday that the findings by Ukrainian experts in Iran meant that the truth about the crash of a Ukrainian passenger plane could not be concealed.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake,” President Hassan Rouhani wrote on Twitter, promising that those responsible would be prosecuted. “My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families.”

The Revolutionary Guards, in a rare step, apologised to the nation and accepted full responsibility. The aerospace commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Brig Gen Amirali Hajizadeh, said he had informed Iran’s authorities on Wednesday about the unintentional strike, a comment that raised questions about why officials had publicly denied it for so long.

Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter that “human error at [the] time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster”, citing an initial armed forces investigation into the crash.

Updated: January 12, 2020 12:36 PM

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