US President Donald Trump warned Iran against “another massacre” as popular protests broke out in Tehran after it admitted shooting down a Ukrainian airliner by mistake, killing all 176 people onboard.
“There cannot be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown. The world is watching,” Trump said after Iranian police dispersed students chanting against the Iranian government on Saturday.
The new wave of protests, which swept across several cities including Tehran, Hamadan, and Isfahan, were organised mainly by students to pay tribute to the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash.
Trump demanded Iran’s government to allow “human rights groups to monitor and report facts from the ground on the ongoing protests by the Iranian people.”
Seeing that 26 of the victims were either alumnus from Irani colleges or current students on their way to Canadian universities, protests took place in front of universities across the country. Chanting “down with the dictator” and “shame on the revolutionary guard,” the protests demanded the resignation and prosecution of those responsible for downing the plane and allegedly covering up the accident.
In an extremely unusual move, state television mentioned the protest, reporting that the students shouted “anti-regime” slogans. It was also reported that Iranian police forces dispersed the protests since they were blocking streets and causing traffic jams.
During the protests, Iranian authorities briefly detained the United Kingdom’s ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, in what was described by the British government as a “violation of international law.”
Dominic Raab, UK’s Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs, stated: “The arrest of our ambassador in Tehran without grounds or explanation is a flagrant violation of international law.”
“The Iranian government is at a crossroads,” adding that Iran “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 forward.”
On the other hand, Macaire announced on Sunday that he was not “taking part in any demonstrations,” adding that he went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of the crashed plane. He explained that he “left after 5 minutes, when some started chanting.”
Macaire was arrested outside Tehran’s Amir Kabir University, and was detained for over an hour before being released, as he was accused of “provoking radical acts” among students, according to Iran’s Tasnim News Agency.
Iran said earlier on Saturday it “unintentionally” downed a Ukrainian jetliner outside Tehran, killing all 176 people aboard, in an abrupt about-turn after initially denying Western claims it was struck by a missile. The firing came shortly after Iran launched missiles at American bases in Iraq.
Iran President Hassan Rouhani said a military probe into the tragedy had found that “missiles fired due to human error” brought down the Boeing 737, calling it an “unforgivable mistake,” vowing to bring those behind the downing of the Ukrainian airliner to justice.
Although the aerospace commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards accepted full responsibility for Wednesday’s accident, Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh said the missile operator acted independently, targeting the 737 after mistaking it for a “cruise missile.”