Infuriated Iranians Take to the Streets, Slamming Authorities for Concealing Ukrainian Plane Shootdown

Condolences from Supreme Leader Khamenei and President Rohani failed to calm angry civilians, who are using social media to express their outrage

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Iranians gather to show their sympathy to the victims of the crash of the Boeing 737-800 plane in Tehran, January 11, 2020.
Iranians gather to show their sympathy to the victims of the crash of the Boeing 737-800 plane in Tehran, January 11, 2020.Credit: WANA NEWS AGENCY/ REUTERS

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency, in a rare report on anti-government unrest, said protesters in Tehran on Saturday chanted slogans against the nation’s top authorities, after the powerful Revolutionary Guards admitted shooting down a passenger plane.

The report said the demonstrators on the street also ripped up pictures of Qassem Soleimani, the prominent commander of the Guard’s Quds Force who was killed in a U.S. drone strike.

The agency, widely seen as close to the Guards, carried pictures of the gathering and a torn banner of Soleimani. It said the protesters numbered about 700 to 1,000 people.

Iran's statement on Saturday that a Ukrainian passenger plane was downed by a missile fired unintentionally followed growing pressure from abroad but also at home, and for some Iranians, the authorities' expressions of condolence were not enough.

For days, Iran had denied Western accusations it was responsible for Wednesday's crash soon after take-off from Tehran, in which all 176 people aboard were killed. Authorities said on Saturday that air defences had been fired in error while on high alert following Iranian missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq.

Expressions of condolence over the incident from Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rohani failed to calm angry Iranians, who used social media to express their outrage against the establishment for concealing the truth.

Rescue workers search the scene where a Ukrainian plane was downed in Shahedshahr, southwest of the capital Tehran, Iran, January 8, 2020. Credit: Ebrahim Noroozi/AP

"It is a national tragedy. The way it was handled and it was announced by the authorities was even more tragic," said Ali Ansari, a moderate cleric, according to Iran's semi-official ILNA news agency.

Many Iranians asked why authorities did not close down Tehran's airport and the country's airspace at a time when they would have been on alert for retaliation after the missile strikes.

There were no fatalities in those strikes, launched to avenge the January 3 U.S. killing of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad.

"They were so careful not to kill any American in their revenge for Soleimani. But they did not close the airport? This shows how much this regime cares for Iranians," said Mira Sedaghati in Tehran by telephone.

An Iranian military statement carried by state media said the Ukrainian plane, which was headed for Kiev, was mistaken for a "hostile target" after it turned toward a sensitive military base of the elite Revolutionary Guards near Tehran, adding that it was a "human error and unintentional".

"Unintentionally? What does it mean? They concealed this huge tragic news for days just to mourn for Soleimani. Shame on you," said Reza Ghadyani, in Tabriz city.

The country held three days of funeral processions for Soleimani, who was head of the Revolutionary Guards' overseas Quds Force and a national hero. Hundreds of thousands of people participated across the country.

Some Iranians called for resignation of officials, dismissing their apologies.

"You took your revenge from Iranians," tweeted Ahmad Batebi on his Twitter account, in response to Rohani's tweet saying that "The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake".

In a Twitter message on Saturday, Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif cast some of the blame for the plane disaster on what he called U.S. adventurism.

"It's the end line Mr. Minister! You ruined everything!," responded Bita Razaqi on Twitter.

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