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Protest erupts after Iran admits to shooting down Ukrainian aircraft

Iran authorities in riot gear march towards protesters demonstrating over plane crash
WATCH: Iran authorities in riot gear march towards protesters demonstrating over plane crash

Protesters took to the streets in Iran Saturday demanding justice over the shooting of a Ukrainian airliner that took the lives of all 176 on board.

Videos of the protest show what looks to be hundreds of Iranians in front of Amir Kabir University raising their fists, chanting and clapping their hands. A candlelit vigil was held earlier at the university for the victims of the shooting.

Demonstrators in Tehran held signs written in Farsi, including the number 752 — the number of the Ukrainian International Airlines flight — before the vigil erupted in protest.

READ MORE: Ukrainian aircraft shot down unintentionally due to ‘human error,’ Iran says

“We gathered here because of some people’s (Iranian leaders) inefficiency … because of some people’s inadequacy,” said an unnamed woman at the vigil, whose words were translated by Reuters.

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Iranians protest to show their sympathy to victims of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 in front of the Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, 11 January 2020.
Iranians protest to show their sympathy to victims of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 in front of the Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, 11 January 2020. EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH

“Our children were killed in the sky. That’s why we gathered together here,” she said. “Where do we go?”

Reports of the protests first emerged on social media Saturday, with unverified footage showing crowds chanting for the removal of the country’s political elite across the city.

Families of Iran plane crash victims hold vigil in Tehran before protesters gather angry over incident
Families of Iran plane crash victims hold vigil in Tehran before protesters gather angry over incident

Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency also reported on the protests at Amir Kabir, stating that pictures of Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s top general who had been killed in a U.S. air strike over a week ago, were being ripped up by demonstrators.

Accounts that shared the unverified footage on social media said that the protests were happening at both Sharif University and Tehran University, as well as on the streets of Tehran. The footage later showed that as protests delved further into the night, Iranian security forces began using teargas, live ammunition and water cannons to disperse the crowds.

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The U.K.’s envoy to Tehran, Rob Macaire, was also reported to have been arrested Saturday after joining in the protests in front of Amir Kabir. He was later released after several hours according to Tehran-based news agency Tasnim.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned Macaire’s arrest later on Saturday, calling it a “flagrant violation” of international law.

“The Iranian government is at a cross-roads moment,” read Raab’s statement. “It can continue its march towards pariah status with all the political and economic isolation that entails, or take steps to deescalate tensions and engage in a diplomatic path forwards.”

The U.S. State Department also spoke out against news of the U.K. ambassador’s arrest, as did Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne.

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“We join our British allies in calling out the temporary detention of the UK Ambassador in Tehran by Iranian officials while he was attending a vigil for the victims of flight #PS752,” Champagne tweeted Saturday night.

“Iran must respect international law and uphold the Vienna Convention.”

State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus tweeted that the arrest “violates the Vienna Convention.”

“We call on the regime to formally apologize to the UK for violating his rights and to respect the rights of all diplomats,” she wrote on Twitter.

READ MORE: Affected by the Iran plane crash? Here’s what government support is available

In a series of tweets Saturday night, U.S. President Donald Trump praised the protests and called on Iran to allow them to continue undeterred.

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“To the brave, long-suffering people of Iran: I’ve stood with you since the beginning of my presidency, and my administration will continue to stand with you,” read his first tweet. “We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage.”

“The government of Iran must allow human rights groups to monitor and report facts from the ground on the ongoing protests by the Iranian people,” said Trump in another tweet.

Iran State TV announces plane was “unintentionally” shot down due to human error
Iran State TV announces plane was “unintentionally” shot down due to human error

“There can not be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown,” continued Trump, referring to the week-long internet shutdown in November.

The shutdown, which in part stemmed from protests over the sudden hike of fuel and gas prices, left over 140 dead according to Amnesty International.

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“The world is watching,”

READ MORE: Number of Canadians killed in Iran plane crash lowered to 57

Iran, who at first denied international claims of having downed the plane, confirmed in a statement Friday night that they had unintentionally shot the airliner down due to a “human error.”

All 176 people on board — including 57 Canadians — were killed. Its shooting happened mere hours after Iran launched several missiles at two Iraqi bases housing U.S. troops in retaliation for Soleimani’s killing.

Iranians protest to show their sympathy to victims of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 in front of the Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, 11 January 2020.
Iranians protest to show their sympathy to victims of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 in front of the Amir Kabir University in Tehran, Iran, 11 January 2020. EPA/ABEDIN TAHERKENAREH

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said Saturday that he is “furious” and “outraged” over the downing of the Ukrainian aircraft and called on Iran to take full responsibility.

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Speaking with reporters Saturday afternoon, Trudeau said Iran’s admission that it was responsible for shooting the plane down was an “important step,” but that the country should now let a full investigation take place.

“This is an accident or incident that is truly horrible, and I am angry, I’m disappointed, but I am firmly committed to getting answers, and compensation and help and justice for the victims,” said Trudeau.

READ MORE: ‘Furious’ Trudeau says Iran must take full responsibility for shooting down plane

“I am of course outraged and furious that families across this country that are grieving their loved ones, that the Iranian-Canadian community is suffering so greatly, that all Canadians are shocked and appalled by this senseless loss of life.”

A government source has told Global News that the first three Canadian consular officials landed in Tehran Saturday. The officials, which are part of the Standing Rapid Deployment team, are expected to be followed by more in the coming days.

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, said earlier Friday that “human error at the time of crisis caused by U.S. adventurism led to disaster.”

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— With files from Reuters, Hannah Jackson and Eric Stober

Follow David Lao on Twitter

david.lao@globalnews.ca