Tuesday, January 14, 2020

IRAN - Protests Over Downing of Ukrainian Jetliner

NOTE:  This article was copied from the e-newspaper, therefore no link to article.

"Iranian rage over downing airliner intensifies" by Jon Gambrell, San Diego Union-Tribune 1/14/2020

Security forces appear to fire on protesters with live ammunition

Popular anger swelled Monday in Iran over the accidental shoot down of a Ukrainian jetliner and the government’s attempt to conceal its role in the tragedy, as online videos appeared to show security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protests in the streets.

Iranians, already suffering under crippling U.S. sanctions, expressed shock and outrage over the plane crash that killed scores of young people.  They also decried the misleading statements from top officials, who only admitted responsibility three days later in the face of mounting evidence.

The country began last week engulfed in mourning after a U.S. drone strike killed Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani, who led Iran’s regional military interventions.  Then on Jan. 8, it responded with a ballistic missile attack on two bases housing U.S. troops in Iraq, although there were no casualties.

U.S. commanders at the base said Monday they believe the attack was intended to kill American personnel, an act that could have pushed the two powers to outright war.

Hours after that barrage, as it braced for a U.S. counterattack that never came, Iranian forces accidentally shot down the Ukraine International Airlines jetliner, killing all 176 people aboard shortly after it took off from Tehran for Kyiv.

For a growing number of critics — from ordinary citizens to notable athletes and artists — the events have revealed a government that is incapable of following through on its incendiary rhetoric and willing to mislead its own people about a national tragedy in order to avoid embarrassment.

Those sentiments first boiled over late Saturday, shortly after the Revolutionary Guard admitted shooting the plane down by mistake.  A candlelight vigil at a university rapidly turned into an anti-government demonstration.

“They are lying that our enemy is America! Our enemy is right here!” students shouted.

On Sunday night, protesters massed in Tehran’s Azadi, or Freedom, Square.

Videos sent to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran and later verified by The Associated Press show a crowd of demonstrators near Azadi Square fleeing as a tear gas canister lands 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 of the violence, a trail of blood visible on the ground.  Those around her cry out that she has been shot in the leg.

“Oh my God, she’s bleeding nonstop!” one person shouts.  Another shouts: “Bandage it!”

Photos and video after the incident show pools of blood on the sidewalk.

Tehran’s police chief, Gen. Hossein Rahimi, later denied that his officers opened fire.

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

President Donald Trump has openly encouraged the demonstrators, even tweeting messages of support in Farsi and warning the government not to fire on them.

Trump, meanwhile, added to the controversy over his justification for killing Soleimani, saying Monday that “it doesn’t really matter” whether it was in response to an imminent threat to the United States.

In a tweet, Trump criticized Democrats for trying to determine whether Iranian attacks the administration has said were planned by Soleimani against U.S. targets were imminent.

“It doesn’t really matter because of his horrible past,” Trump wrote.  The administration has held Soleimani, as head of Iran’s Quds Force, responsible for orchestrating Iran’s use of proxy forces in terrorist attacks throughout the Middle East, and the deaths of hundreds of U.S. soldiers over the years, long before the threat it has said justified the Jan. 3 U.S. drone strike that killed him.

In a separate tweet, Trump emphasized Soleimani’s past actions rather than the threat of future attacks.  “The Democrats and Fake News are trying to make terrorist Soleimani into a wonderful guy, only because I did what should have been done for 20 years,” he wrote.

Trump promoted a manipulated image of Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) wearing a turban and a headscarf in front of an Iranian flag, claiming it showed “the corrupted Dems trying their best to come to the Ayatollah’s rescue #NancyPelosiFakeNews.”

Many Democratic lawmakers and some Republicans have questioned the administration’s claims about the immediacy of the threat — and the targets — and charged that it has failed to provide full and accurate information about an action that brought the U.S. and Iran to the brink of war.

Gambrell writes for The Associated Press, The Washington Post and
The New York Times contributed to this report.

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