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About 1,000 of protesters have taken to the streets in Iran’s capital, Tehran, to vent anger at officials, calling them liars for having denied shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane.

Protests took place outside at least two universities, with tear gas reportedly fired.

President Donald Trump tweeted support for the “inspiring” protests.

On January 11, Iran admitted downing the jet “unintentionally”, three days after the crash that killed 176 people.

Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752, en route to Kyiv, was shot down on January 8 near Imam Khomeini Airport in Tehran shortly after take-off, and only hours after Iran had fired missiles at two air bases housing US forces in Iraq.

Those attacks were Iran’s response to the US killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad on January 3.

Dozens of Iranians and Canadians, as well as nationals from Ukraine, the UK, Afghanistan and Germany died on the plane.

According to local reports, students gathered outside at least two universities, Sharif and Amir Kabir, initially to pay respect to the victims. Protests turned angry in the evening.

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The semi-official Fars news agency carried a rare report of the unrest, saying up to 1,000 people had chanted slogans against leaders and tore up pictures of Qasem Soleimani.

The students called for those responsible for the downing the plane, and those they said had covered up the action, to be prosecuted.

Chants included “commander-in-chief resign”, referring to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, and “death to liars”.

According to Fars, police had “dispersed” the protesters, who were blocking roads. Social media footage appeared to show tear gas being fired.

Social media users also vented anger at the government’s actions.

The protests were, however, far smaller than the mass demonstrations across Iran in support of Qasem Soleimani after he was killed.

President Trump tweeted in both English and Farsi, saying: “To the brave and suffering Iranian people: I have stood with you since the beginning of my presidency and my government will continue to stand with you.

“We are following your protests closely. Your courage is inspiring.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted video of the protests in Iran, saying: “The voice of the Iranian people is clear. They are fed up with the regime’s lies, corruption, ineptitude, and brutality of the IRGC [Revolutionary Guards] under Khamenei’s kleptocracy. We stand with the Iranian people who deserve a better future.”

For three days, Iran had denied reports its missiles had brought down the Ukraine jet, with one spokesman accusing Western nations of “lying and engaging in psychological warfare”.

However, on January 11, a statement read on state TV accepted the plane had been shot down.

Brig-Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, the Revolutionary Guards’ aerospace commander, explained what happened.

The general said a missile operator had acted independently and alone, mistaking the plane for a “cruise missile” as there had been reports that such missiles had been fired at Iran.

After three days of anti-government protests in Iran, demonstrators have been warned by the Revolutionary Guards that they will face the nation’s “iron fist” if political unrest continues.

The protests erupted over falling living standards.

However, a Revolutionary Guards commander said the protests had degenerated into people chanting political slogans and burning public property.

The recent protests are the biggest show of dissent since huge pro-reform rallies in 2009. There are reports of two deaths.

In the cities of Khoramabad, Zanjan and Ahvaz there were calls for the removal or death of Iran’s Supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutions Guards Corp is a powerful force with ties to the country’s supreme leader, and is dedicated to preserving the country’s Islamic system.

Brigadier-General Esmail Kowsari told the ISNA news agency: “If people came into the streets over high prices, they should not have chanted those slogans and burned public property and cars.”

The interior minister has also warned the public that protesters will be held accountable.

Image source Wikimedia

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Protests began in the north-eastern city of Mashhad on December 28 and spread to other major cities on December 29.

A small demonstration in the capital Tehran grew to several thousand people on December 30, and students clashed with police. The protests also became violent in several other towns.

Iran is a key provider of military support to the government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. It is also accused of providing arms to Houthi rebels fighting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen, which it denies, and is an ally of Lebanon’s powerful Shia movement Hezbollah.

The Iranian authorities are blaming anti-revolutionaries and agents of foreign powers for the outbreak.

Also on December 30, thousands of pro-government demonstrators turned out for pre-arranged rallies to mark the eighth anniversary of the suppression of the 2009 street protests.

The US has led international support for the protesters.

President Donald Trump tweeted: “Oppressive regimes cannot endure forever, and the day will come when the Iranian people will face a choice. The world is watching!”

Iran’s foreign ministry called earlier comments from President Trump and other US officials “opportunistic and deceitful”.