Iran makes arrests in plane shoot down, Police crackdown on protests

Thursday, 16 January 2020 00:31 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Iranian riot police use a water cannon to disperse protesters during a demonstration outside Teheran's Amir Kabir University on Jan 11, 2020.PHOTO: AFP


DUBAI (Reuters): Iran said on Tuesday it had arrested people accused of a role in shooting down a Ukrainian airliner and had also detained 30 people involved in protests that have swept the nation for four days since the military belatedly admitted its error.

Last Wednesday’s downing of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, which killed all 176 people aboard, has created a new crisis for the Islamic Republic’s clerical rulers.

President Hassan Rouhani promised a thorough investigation into the “unforgivable error” in an address on Tuesday. It was the latest in a series of apologies by the leadership that has done little to quell public anger.

Britain, France and Germany also increased diplomatic pressure on Iran, launching a dispute mechanism to challenge Tehran for breaching limits on its nuclear programme under an agreement which Washington abandoned in 2018.

Tehran has faced an escalating confrontation with the West and a wave of unrest since the US killed Iran’s most powerful military commander in a drone strike on 3 January.

Iran shot down the plane yesterday when its military was on high alert, hours after firing missiles at US targets in Iraq. It admitted the mistake on Saturday after days of denials.

New security camera footage shows two missiles, fired 30 seconds apart, hitting the plane after take-off, the New York Times reported on Tuesday.

US intelligence officials said on 9 January that the heat signatures of two surface-to-air missiles were detected near the aircraft.

In Iraq, a military camp at Taji, north of Baghdad, was hit by Katyusha rockets Tuesday night but no casualties were reported, an Iraqi military statement said.

A person who posted a video online last week of a missile striking the plane has been taken into custody by the elite Revolutionary Guards, the semi-official Fars news agency reported.

Iranian Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said some of those accused of having a role in the plane disaster had been arrested, although he did not say how many or identify them.

Since the official admission, protesters, many of them students, have held daily demonstrations, chanting “Clerics get lost!” and calling for the removal of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in power for more than 30 years.

Police have responded to some protests with a violent crackdown, video posts on social media showed, with Police beating protesters with batons, wounded people being carried, pools of blood on the streets and the sound of gunfire.

A video that emerged on Tuesday showed an officer using an electric baton to shock a man as he writhed on the ground.

Iran’s Police have denied firing at protesters and said officers were ordered to act with restraint. The judiciary said 30 people had been detained in the unrest but authorities would show tolerance towards “legal protests”. Protests on Tuesday appeared peaceful, with scores gathering at two Tehran universities. “Where is justice?” some shouted.

The extent of the unrest is difficult to assess because of limits on independent reporting. Demonstrations tend to gather momentum into the night.

The domestic unrest triggered by the plane crash comes just two months after the most violent crackdown on protests since the revolution. The authorities killed hundreds of people to put down an uprising in November when demonstrators torched banks and petrol stations.