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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - WASHINGTON/TEHRAN — US Donald Trump warned Iran on Sunday against killing protesters who have risen up over the regime's downing of a civilian airliner as his defense secretary left the door open to talks with Tehran without preconditions.
Trump's salvo came as Iran's Islamic regime faced a challenge from angry street protests, having come to the brink of war with the US with a series of tit-for-tat confrontations.
"To the leaders of Iran — DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS," Trump tweeted, warning the world and "more importantly, the USA is watching."
In an interview with CBS's "Face the Nation" just before the tweet, US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Trump was stilling willing to hold talks with Iran's leaders.
"We're willing to sit down and discuss without precondition a new way forward, a series of steps by which Iran becomes a more normal country," Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
Meanwhile, scores of protesters gathered for a second day in Iran on Sunday chanting slogans against the authorities following the military’s admission it had shot down a passenger plane in error after days denying it was to blame, Iran International reported.
State-affiliated media had reported protests on Saturday night shortly after the Iranian military said it had brought down the Ukrainian plane on Wednesday and apologized.
“They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here,” protesters who had gathered in the street outside a university in Tehran chanted. They also gathered in other cities.
Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC) forces threatened protesters in response to the new wave of anti-regime demonstrations, according to Iran International.
The regime has, however, dubbed the protests as a US and Israeli plot.
In another development, pro-regime militia members chanted “Death to England” in a protest outside the British embassy in Tehran on Sunday, demanding its closure, Iran's semi-official Fars news agency reported.
Members of the Basij militia gathered outside the embassy on Sunday afternoon.
The protests come after Iran temporarily arrested the UK Ambassador Rob Macaire, for allegedly interfering in domestic affairs by allegedly attending a protest in front of Tehran’s Amir Kabir University.
Macaire denied he took part in the protests, tweeting on Sunday: “Can confirm I wasn’t taking part in any demonstrations! Went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of #PS752 tragedy.”
Macaire added 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 said.
"Arresting diplomats is of course illegal, in all countries," he added.
Iran's deputy foreign minister on Sunday confirmed Macaire had been arrested but said he was freed soon after being identified.
"He wasn't detained, but arrested as unknown foreigner in an illegal gathering," Seyed Abbas Araghchi tweeted, adding Macaire was released 15 minutes after he called the British diplomat to confirm his identity.
The British government said Macaire was arrested and detained briefly in the Iranian capital in what it called a "flagrant violation of international law".
Iran's armed forces said on Saturday the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 was mistakenly shot down, after denying for days Western claims it was brought down by a missile.
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