Ou­trage over jet’s down­ing swells

Ira­ni­ans ex­press ou­trage over lives lost in plane crash

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Jon Gambrell

Ira­ni­ans take to the streets in protest of the deadly jet crash and gov­ern­ment’s mis­lead­ing re­sponse.

DUBAI, United Arab Emi­rates — Pop­u­lar anger swelled Mon­day in Iran over the ac­ci­den­tal down­ing 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 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.

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.

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 Sun­day night 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.”

The semiof­fi­cial Fars news agency re­ported that po­lice had “shot tear gas in some ar­eas.”

Ali Ra­biei, a gov­ern­ment spokesman, in­sisted Iran’s civil­ian of­fi­cials learned only on Fri­day that the Revo­lu­tion­ary Guard had shot down the plane. The Guard an­swers di­rectly to Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei.

“The point is that we did not lie,” Ra­biei said. He went on to blame the U.S. for “spread­ing the shadow of war over Iran.”

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump has openly en­cour­aged the demon­stra­tors, even tweet­ing mes­sages of sup­port in Farsi and warn­ing the gov­ern­ment not to fire on them. Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Heiko Maas tweeted that “we are fol­low­ing the protests in Tehran very at­ten­tively,” adding that Ira­ni­ans “have a right to free ex­pres­sion with­out re­pres­sion and per­se­cu­tion.”

Trump also used the con­tro­versy sur­round­ing the U.S. con­fronta­tion with Iran to at­tack do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal fores, retweet­ing on Mon­day morn­ing a ma­nip­u­lated im­age of Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer, D.N.Y., wear­ing a tur­ban, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wear­ing a head scarf, in front of an Ira­nian flag, claim­ing it showed “the cor­rupted Dems try­ing their best to come to the Ay­a­tol­lah’s res­cue #Nan­cyPelosiFa­keNews.”

Pelosi has crit­i­cized the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion for the killing of Soleimani, Iran’s most im­por­tant gen­eral, say­ing it risked a “dan­ger­ous es­ca­la­tion of vi­o­lence” and was based on ques­tion­able in­tel­li­gence.

Re­spond­ing on Twit­ter, Schumer asked, “Pres­i­dent Trump: How low can you go?”

Last week, the ma­jor­ity Demo­cratic House passed a non­bind­ing res­o­lu­tion that said Trump must seek ap­proval from Congress be­fore en­gag­ing in fur­ther mil­i­tary ac­tion against Iran.

Se­nate Ma­jor­ity Leader Mitch McCon­nell, R-Ky., said Mon­day that the Se­nate will “soon” de­bate a sim­i­lar mea­sure spon­sored by Demo­cratic Sen. Tim Kaine of Vir­ginia. The mea­sure, co-spon­sored by two Re­pub­li­cans — Sens. Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Ken­tucky — would send the wrong mes­sage to U.S. al­lies, McCon­nell said.

The “blunt in­stru­ment” of a war pow­ers res­o­lu­tion is no sub­sti­tute for “the stud­ied over­sight the Se­nate can ex­er­cise through hear­ings and more tai­lored leg­is­la­tion,” McCon­nell said.

“We ap­pear to have re­stored a mea­sure of de­ter­rence in the Mid­dle East,” McCon­nell said in a speech open­ing the Se­nate for the week. “So let’s not screw it up.”

His re­marks came amid ques­tions and fresh ex­pla­na­tions from the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion about why it or­dered the strike that killed Soleimani.

AP

Pro­test­ers wave flow­ers as tear gas fired by po­lice rises at a protest in Tehran to re­mem­ber vic­tims of the downed plane.

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