Videos recorded gunshots in the vicinity of Iranian protests that were staged after Tehran admitted bringing down a passenger plane in error
US President Donald Trump warned Iran against harming demonstrators and against a repeat of a deadly crackdown against rallies in November
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 Monday.
There was no immediate report in Iranian state-run media on the incident near Azadi, or Freedom, Square in Tehran on Sunday night after a call went up for protests there. However, international rights groups already have called on Iran to allow people to protest peacefully as allowed by the country’s constitution.
“After successive national traumas in a short time period, people should be allowed to safely grieve and demand accountability,” said Hadi Ghaemi, the executive director of the New York-based Centre for Human Rights in Iran.
“Iranians shouldn’t have to risk their lives to exercise their constitutional right to peaceful assembly.”
Videos sent to the centre and later verified by 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.
“Oh my God, she’s bleeding non-stop!” one person shouts. Another shouts: “Bandage it!”
Photos and video after the incident show pools of blood on the pavement.
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 plain clothes security men were also out in force.
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 on Saturday
in the face of mounting evidence and accusations by Western leaders.
Iran downed the flight as it braced for possible American retaliation after firing ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing US forces earlier on Wednesday. The missile attack, which caused no casualties, was a response to the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general, in a US air strike in Baghdad. But no retaliation came.
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.
Some Iranian newspapers also criticised the government over the downing of the jet, including how it was handled.
“Apologise, resign,” the reformist daily
headlined on Sunday while Tehran’s
daily splashed “Shame” in blood-red letters across its front page.
Some Iranian artists, including famed director Masoud Kimiai, withdrew from an upcoming international film festival. Two state TV hosts resigned in protest over the false reporting about the cause of the plane crash.
US President Donald Trump, who has expressed support for past waves of anti-government demonstrations in Iran, addressed the country’s leaders in a tweet, saying “DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS”. He later tweeted the same message again in Farsi.
“The World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching,” he tweeted.
Iranians demonstrated in November after the government hiked fuel prices, holding large protests across the nation. The government shut down internet access for days, making it difficult to gauge the scale of the protests and the subsequent crackdown. Amnesty International later said more than 300 people were killed.
A candlelight ceremony late Saturday in Tehran turned into a protest, with hundreds of people chanting against the country’s leaders – including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – and police dispersing them with tear gas. Protests were also held in the city of Isfahan and elsewhere.
Police briefly detained the British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, who said he went to the vigil without knowing it would turn into a protest
Dozens of hardliners later gathered outside the British Embassy, chanting “Death to England”. They also called for the ambassador to be expelled and the embassy to be closed.
On the diplomatic front, France, Germany and Britain on Sunday called on Iran to return to “full respect” of its commitments under its 2015 nuclear accord with world powers, despite Washington having walked out of the deal.
US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said Trump was still willing to “sit down and discuss without precondition a new way forward” with Iran, although Tehran has steadfastly refused to hold talks with Washington unless it lifts sanctions first.
In a meeting between Iran’s President Hassan Rowhani and the visiting emir of Qatar, both sides agreed de-escalation is the “only solution” to the regional crisis, the Qatari ruler said.
Qatar hosts the largest US military base in the region but also enjoys strong ties with Iran, with which it shares the world’s largest gas field.
“We agreed … that the only solution to these crises is de-escalation from everyone and dialogue,” Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said on what was believed to be his first official visit to the Islamic republic.
For his part, Rowhani said: “We’ve decided to have more consultations and cooperation for the security of the entire region.”
Iran’s president also met with visiting Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, whose country has offered to mediate between Tehran and US ally Riyadh.