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U.S. Says It's 'Watching' Iran Regime After Tehran Denies Shooting Protesters


Iranian students chant slogans as they demonstrate following a tribute for the victims of Ukrainian airliner that was shot down over Tehran ion January 8.

The United States has warned Iran that it's monitoring its actions after authorities in Tehran denied using live ammunition on anti-government demonstrators angered by how officials have handled the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane last week.

Rallies took place for a third consecutive day at Tehran’s Sharif University of Technology and Amir Kabir University on January 13, with demonstrators chanting slogans such as "Clerics get lost," according to social media posts.

Videos posted online also purported to show a student protest at the Isfahan University of Technology.

Authorities denied that police had opened fire after images of earlier rallies appeared to show police and security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

Iran's military has admitted that its air-defense forces shot down the Boeing 737-800 airliner on January 8, killing all 176 people on board, although it said the downing of the plane was unintentional.

The tragedy occurred a few hours after an Iranian ballistic-missile attack against military bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq.

Tehran had initially rejected suggestions it was to blame for the crash of the airliner, most of whose passengers were either Iranian citizens or members of Canada's Iranian diaspora.

After Iran’s January 11 admission, protests broke out in Tehran and other cities, with demonstrators chanting slogans against the Iranian leadership and reports of clashes with police.

Videos posted online purported to show police and security forces firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrators near Tehran’s Azadi (Freedom) Square on the night of January 12, AP reported.

Iranian Anti-Government Protests Continue Amid Reports Of Gunfire
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Reuters said videos showed blood on the ground and images of people who appeared to be security personnel in the vicinity of protests carrying rifles.

Other posts showed police in riot gear hitting protesters with batons on the street, the agency said.

In a statement carried by Iran’s state broadcaster's website on January 13, Tehran's police chief Hossein Rahimi denied that shots had been fired at protesters.

"At protests, police absolutely did not shoot because the capital's police officers have been given orders to show restraint," Rahimi said.

In Berlin, the German Foreign Ministry said Iranians must be allowed to take to the streets to express their "grief, and also their anger."

"We are convinced this has to happen in a peaceful, free, and unhindered way," ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr said.

U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus warned Iranian authorities that Washington was not going to "tolerate" violence against the protesters.

"We want the regime to know that the United States is watching, that the world is watching, and that we are going to shine a very, very big light on any abuse by the regime to their own people. We are not going to tolerate killing innocent protesters. [U.S. President Donald] Trump was very clear about that over the weekend," Ortagus told RFE/RL on January 13.

"The Iranian people have been lied to by their own government for at least three or four days before they finally admitted, before they were caught red-handed and had to admit that they were actually responsible for the downing of the Ukrainian airliner."

The previous day, Trump warned that Iranian authorities should not target anti-government protesters.

“Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching,” he wrote in a tweet.

On January 13, Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabiei accused Trump of shedding "crocodile tears" when voicing concern for Iranians.

Rabiei also denied a "cover-up" after it took days for Iran’s armed forces to admit it had shot down the airliner.

"In these sorrowful days, many criticisms were directed at relevant officials and authorities.... Some officials were even accused of lying and a cover-up but, in all honesty, that was not the case," he said in remarks aired on state television.

Britain, meanwhile, has summoned the Iranian ambassador to protest the brief detention of London's envoy to Tehran.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's spokesman told reporters on January 13 that the government would convey its "strong objections" about the detention, calling it an "unacceptable breach" of the Vienna Convention governing diplomatic relations.

"We are seeking full assurances from the Iranian government that this will never happen again,” the spokesman said.

Ambassador Rob Macaire said he was detained on January 11 after attending a vigil for the victims. Macaire tweeted that he left the vigil after five minutes, when some people started chanting.

Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 was carrying 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, 10 Afghans, three Germans, and three Britons.

Iran has invited Canada and Ukraine to take part in an investigation into the plane disaster and said those responsible would be held accountable.

Speaking to Reuters on January 13, Ukraine's Foreign Minister Vadym Prystayko said he would meet his counterparts from five "grieving nations" on January 16 to discuss the investigation as well as possible legal action and compensation

Besides Ukraine, the countries include Canada, Sweden, Afghanistan, and a fifth nation which Prystayko did not name.

Canada has said that these four countries and Britain had established a coordination group to support victims' families.

Prystayko also said that Tehran had agreed to hand over the plane's black boxes to Kyiv for investigation.

During a vigil for the Canadian victims of the disaster on January 12, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau vowed to seek "justice" for those killed.

"We will not rest until there are answers," Trudeau said in Edmonton, Alberta.

In Kyiv, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine hopes to repatriate the bodies of the 11 Ukrainians by the end of this week.

Zelenskiy said he would like for the bodies to return home “by January 19” so that their relatives can “say goodbye to them,” according to a statement on the presidential website.

Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Oleksiy Danylov told the BBC that the 11 bodies most likely would return at a later date.

“Thirty percent of the bodies are identified,” Danylov said. “Around January 20-21, they’ll come back to Ukraine.”

Nine of the Ukrainians on board were crew members and two were passengers.

Amirali Hajizadeh, the head of the aerospace division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), said on January 11 that his unit accepts “full responsibility” for the tragedy.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed his “deep sympathy” to the families of the 176 victims and called on the armed forces to "pursue probable shortcomings and guilt in the painful incident.”

With reporting by the BBC, AP, AFP, and Reuters
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