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Iranian police fire tear gas at people protesting against downing of passenger jet

US President Donald Trump warned Iran that the world and “more importantly, the USA is watching”.

People attend a mourning ceremony for the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash in Tehran.
People attend a mourning ceremony for the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash in Tehran.
Image: Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

IRANIAN POLICE AND security forces fired both live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrators protesting against the Islamic Republic’s initial denial that it shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, online videos purported to show.

Videos sent to the New York-based Center for Human Rights offices in Iran, and later verified by The Associated Press, show a crowd of demonstrators fleeing as a tear gas canister landed among them.

People cough and sputter while trying to escape the fumes, with one woman calling out in Farsi: “They fired tear gas at people! Azadi Square. Death to the dictator!”

Another video shows a woman being carried away in the aftermath as a blood trail can be seen on the ground. Those around her cry out that she has been shot by live ammunition in the leg.

Riot police in black uniforms and helmets gathered earlier Sunday in Vali-e Asr Square, at Tehran University and other landmarks. Revolutionary Guard members patrolled the city on motorbikes, and plainclothes security men were also out in force. 

addition-iran-plane-crash Source: Mona Hoobehfekr

The crash of the Ukraine International Airline early on Wednesday killed all 176 people on board, mostly Iranians and Iranian-Canadians.

After pointing to a technical failure and insisting for three days that the Iranian armed forces were not to blame, authorities admitted on Saturday to accidentally shooting it down in the face of mounting evidence and accusations by Western leaders.

Iranians have expressed anger over the downing of the plane and the misleading explanations from senior officials in the wake of the tragedy. They are also mourning the dead, which included many young people who were studying abroad.

“Even talking about it makes my heart beat faster and makes me sad,” said Zahra Razeghi, a Tehran resident not taking part in demonstrations who spoke earlier to the AP. “I feel ashamed when I think about their families.”

“The denial and covering up the truth over the past three days greatly added to the suffering and pain of the families, and me,” she added.

Last night, US President Donald Trump warned Iran against killing protester, as his defense secretary left the door open to talks with Tehran without preconditions.

“To the leaders of Iran — DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS,” Trump tweeted, warning that 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 still 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”.

And if something happened to the protesters? Esper replied: “The president has drawn no preconditions other than to say we’re willing to meet with the Iranian government.”

Long-standing US-Iran tensions have soared since 3 January when missiles fired from a US drone killed a top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani near Baghdad’s airport.

Iran responded with a barrage of missiles at two US bases in Iraq, inflicting no casualties in what was seen as an attempt to prevent a spiral of escalation.

Four hours later, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard unit shot down the Ukrainian passenger jet shortly after takeoff from Tehran.

The death of all 176 people aboard and Iran’s belated admission its forces mistook the plane for a cruise missile has set off angry protests against the regime.

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The British ambassador to Iran was briefly arrested on Saturday after attending a memorial service for the victims at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University.

‘Fudging intelligence’

The administration has come under fire from Democrats – and at least two Republican senators – for refusing to share the intelligence with members of Congress.

Senior congressional leaders – the so-called Gang of Eight – were briefed on 8 January as skepticism mounted about the administration’s rationale for a killing that raised the risk of war with Iran.

“We had exquisite intelligence and the intelligence showed that they were looking at US facilities throughout the region,” O’Brien said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “The threat was imminent.”

Adam Schiff, chair of the House Intelligence Committee, said there was no discussion in the briefing given to the Gang of Eight about plots against four embassies.

“In the view of the briefers, there was plotting, there was an effort to escalate, a big plan, but they didn’t have specificity,” he said.

“So when you hear the president out there on Fox, he is fudging intelligence,” he said on Face the Nation.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the congressional leadership should have been informed of the strike against Soleimani in advance.

“I don’t think the administration has been straight with the Congress of the United States,” she said.

- with reporting from AFP and Gráinne Ní Aodha

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