Iran arrests people accused of role in downing aircraft
Citizens, many of them students, have held daily demonstrations since tragedy
Dubai — Iranian officials said on Tuesday that people accused of playing a part in the shooting down of a Ukrainian airliner had been arrested.
They also announced the arrests of 30 people involved in protests that have swept the country for four days since the military belatedly admitted its error.
In a step that will increase diplomatic pressure, Britain, France and Germany launched a dispute mechanism to challenge Iran for breaching limits on its nuclear programme under an agreement that Washington abandoned in 2018.
Since the US killed Iran’s most powerful military commander in a drone strike on January 3, Tehran has faced intensifying confrontation with the West and unrest at home, both reaching levels with little precedent in its modern history.
Iran shot down the Ukraine International Airlines airliner on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard, when its military was on high alert, hours after it fired missiles at US targets in Iraq. After days of denying a role in the air crash, Iran admitted it on Saturday, calling it a tragic mistake.
Protesters, many of them students, have been demonstrating daily since then, chanting “Clerics get lost!” and calling for the removal of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in power for more than 30 years.
Police cracked down on some protests, video posts on social media showed. Footage showed police beating protesters with batons, wounded people being carried, pools of blood on the streets and the sound of gunfire.
Iran’s police denied firing at protesters. The judiciary said 30 people had been detained in the unrest, but said the authorities would show tolerance towards “legal protests”.
President Hassan Rouhani promised a thorough investigation of the “unforgivable error” of shooting down the aircraft. He spoke in a television address on Tuesday, the latest in a series of apologies from a leadership that rarely admits mistakes.
Judiciary spokesperson Gholamhossein Esmaili said some of those accused of having a role in the aircraft disaster were arrested, but he did not say how many or identify them.
Most of those on board the flight were Iranians or dual nationals. Canada, Ukraine, Britain and other nations who had citizens on the aircraft have scheduled a meeting on Thursday in London to consider legal action against Tehran.
Iran’s government was already reeling from the reimposition of sanctions by the US, which quit an agreement with world powers under which Tehran would secure sanctions relief in return for scaling back its nuclear programme.
Since Washington withdrew, Tehran has stepped back from its nuclear commitments, saying it would no longer recognise limits on enriching uranium. After months of threatening to act, European signatories to the deal, France, Britain and Germany, activated the agreement’s dispute mechanism on Tuesday.
The EU’s top diplomat said the European move aimed to bring Tehran bank to compliance, not impose sanctions.
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