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Iranians Protest For Third Day Over Downed Airliner Amid Reports Of Gunfire By Security Forces

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Iranians staged protests Monday for the third straight day after Iran’s military admitted it shot down a Ukrainian airliner it mistook for a hostile aircraft last week, killing all 176 people on board.

Videos from Sunday night showed demonstrators fleeing from tear gas and in one case a woman bleeding in the leg — a wound that protesters said was caused by live ammunition.

“Is this the blood of our people?” one demonstrator said as he filmed a pool of blood on the street in Tehran.

In other videos posted on social media, which could not immediately be verified, sounds of gunfire could be heard at protests in Azadi Square in the capital, as well as in the city of Shiraz.

Iranians protest as government admits shooting down airline

In a televised statement, Tehran’s police chief denied that police shot at protesters and said they are under orders to show restraint.

“Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance,” Iranian media quoted Gen. Hossein Rahimi as saying, the Associated Press reported. “Police did not shoot in the gatherings since broad-mindedness and restraint has been agenda of the police forces of the capital.”

Residents reported a heavy security presence in central Tehran Monday, including riot police and uniformed officers. One video showed riot police gathered near Vali-e Asr Square.

“All of Enghelab Street until Azadi Square is full of security forces,” said Sahar, 32, a resident of Tehran. Like other Iranians interviewed for this article, she declined to give her full name for fear of government reprisal.

Iranian security forces have cracked down hard on demonstrations and killed at least 200 protesters during unrest over cuts to fuel subsidies across Iran in November, according to rights groups. The Trump administration has put the death toll from those demonstrations much higher — it says some 1,500 people were killed by security forces.

One of the scenes of a demonstration was Sharif University of Technology in Tehran on Saturday night where people had gathered at a vigil for the victims of the plane crash. The university said that 13 of its students and alumni were killed when the plane was shot down by a surface-to-air missile early Wednesday.

Security forces “started dragging people away. They took a number of people and put them in cages in police vans,” said 35-year-old Soudabeh, an architect.

“At one point, the protesters freed one of the men who was detained. I saw his face and it was covered in blood — his family carried him away,” she said.

Another video from the same university Monday showed students once again chanting against the cleric-led government.

“They killed our elites and replaced them with clerics!” they shouted.

On Sunday evening, riot police fired tear gas at demonstrators gathered near the Shademaan metro station in Tehran, according to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran.

Protesters are calling for accountability in the accidental downing of Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752. Iranian officials initially denied reports that the plane was brought down with a surface-to-air missile but later admitted that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, a powerful security institution, shot it down by mistake amid heightened tensions with the United States.

The crash occurred early Wednesday just hours after Iran had fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at Iraqi military bases hosting U.S. troops. The barrage was retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed Iranian commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, in Baghdad earlier this month.

In at least two locations late Sunday, demonstrators were filmed tearing down posters of the slain commander. In Vali-e Asr Square in Tehran, a large poster depicting Soleimani was replaced with a billboard mourning the victims of the crash.

The fury at Iran’s government marked a stunning turnaround for leaders in Tehran, after hundreds of thousands of mourners had rallied in solidarity with Soleimani in the wake of his death.

Officials and state media issued apologies for failing to report accurately on the crash.

The official Islamic Republic News Agency published a searing statement from the Tehran Association of Journalists Monday decrying the state of media in Iran.

“What endangers this society right now is not only missiles or military attacks but a lack of free media,” the association said.

“Hiding the truth and spreading lies traumatized the public,” the statement continued. “What happened was a catastrophe for media in Iran.”

Government spokesman Ali Rabiei said Monday that Iran’s military should be commended for accepting responsibility for downing the airliner, which officials said was the result of “human error.”

The nation’s defense systems had been put on high alert in anticipation of a U.S. attack, security officials said.-Washington Post

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