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Iran deploys riot police as protests swell over Ukraine plane missile strike

George Martin

The Iranian government has deployed scores of riot police across Tehran amid a fierce backlash following the accidental shooting down of a Ukrainian passenger plane on Wednesday 8 January.

The country’s Revolutionary Guard admitted to mistakenly shooting down the jet, killing all 176 people on board, mostly Iranians and Iranian-Canadians.

Three British citizens were killed in the tragedy. Sam Zokaei, from Surrey, Saeed Tahmasebi Khademasadi, from west London, and Mohammad Reza Kadkhoda Zadeh, from near Brighton, were passengers on the downed plane.

Saeed Tahmasebi Khademasadi, an engineer with Imperial College London, was among those killed in flight PS752 from Tehran to Kyiv on Wednesday.
Saeed Tahmasebi Khademasadi, an engineer with Imperial College London, was among those killed in flight PS752 from Tehran to Kyiv on Wednesday.

Tensions have boiled over in the capital since the admission, with riot police in black uniforms and helmets gathering in large numbers.

Revolutionary Guard members patrolled the city on motorbikes and plainclothes security men were also out in force.

Iranian demonstrators hold placards bearing the images of slain military commander Qasem Soleimani and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in front of the British embassy in the capital Tehran on January 12, 2020 following the British ambassador's arrest for allegedly attending an illegal demonstration. - Chanting "Death to Britain", up to 200 protesters rallied outside the mission a day after the brief arrest of British ambassador Rob Macaire at a memorial for those killed when a Ukraine airliner was shot down. (Photo by ATTA KENARE / AFP) (Photo by ATTA KENARE/AFP via Getty Images)
Demonstrators hold placards bearing the images of slain military commander Qasem Soleimani. (Getty)

After initially blaming a technical failure, Iranian authorities finally admitted to accidentally shooting the plane down in the face of mounting evidence and accusations by western leaders.

The tragedy occurred as Iran braced for retaliation after firing ballistic missiles at two bases in Iraq housing American forces.

The ballistic missile attack, which caused no casualties, was a response to the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general, in a US airstrike in Baghdad.

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Iranians have expressed anger over the downing of the plane and the misleading explanations from senior officials in the wake of the tragedy.

Hundreds of students gathered at Tehran’s Shahid Beheshti University on Sunday to mourn the victims and protest against authorities for concealing the cause of the crash, the semi-official ISNA news agency reported. They later dispersed peacefully.

A candlelight ceremony late on Saturday in Tehran turned into a protest, with hundreds of people chanting against the country’s leaders – including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Police ended up dispersing the crowds with tear gas.

Police briefly detained the British ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, who says he went with the intention of attending the vigil and did not know it would turn into a protest.

“Can confirm I wasn’t taking part in any demonstrations!” he tweeted. “Went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of #PS752 tragedy. Normal to want to pay respects — some of victims were British. I left after 5 mins, when some started chanting.”

Iran’s deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi later tweeted that Mr Macaire was arrested “as an unknown foreigner in an illegal gathering”.

Mr Araghchi said when police informed him that a man was arrested who claimed to be the British ambassador he did not believe them.

But he said that once he spoke to Mr Macaire by phone he realised it was him, and that the ambassador was freed 15 minutes later.

Iran’s Foreign Ministry later summoned the British ambassador over his “illegal and inappropriate presence” at the protest, it said on its Telegram channel.