Iran denies “secrecy” in Ukrainian plane case amid escalating anger

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS)

Iran on Monday denied any attempt to “conceal” after it took several days for its admission to shoot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, amid demonstrations denouncing the disaster and calls for a transparent investigation.

The Ukrainian Airlines Boeing 737 was shot down by a missile shortly after takeoff from Tehran before dawn on Wednesday, killing 176 people, all on board.

The shooting down of the plane, which was heading to Kiev, came hours after Tehran launched a series of missiles targeting two military bases in Iraq where American soldiers are stationed, in response to Washington’s killing of the commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, General Qassem Soleimani, in Baghdad.

The Iranian authorities initially denied the Western accusations, which were based on intelligence information, that a missile had hit the passenger plane, before it admitted the order on Saturday.

In the wake of the authorities’ handling of the case, a pause in honor of the victims organized by Tehran University students turned into a protest demonstration on Saturday evening that was dispersed by the police.

And demonstrations took place in the Iranian capital as well on Sunday night, according to video recordings that spread on social media and it was not possible to verify their authenticity nor estimate the number of participants.

The demonstrators chanted “Death to the dictator” in addition to slogans against the Revolutionary Guards, according to the news agency “Fares”, in a rare move in a country where the media usually refers to the demonstrators as “rioters” and avoids such slogans.

Meanwhile, the Netbooks website, which monitors Internet disturbances, talked about the declining ability to connect to the network on Monday at Sharif University in Tarhan before any possible new demonstrations.

“On these sad days, criticism has been leveled at the country’s officials and authorities. Some officials have been accused of lying and of trying to conceal the issue, while in reality, frankly, this has not happened,” Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabei said at a press conference.

“The truth is that we did not lie. Lying means falsely intentionally and knowingly. Lying means hiding information. Lying means realizing something and not saying it or distorting its truth,” he added.

He stressed that all the details provided by the officials before the confession of Saturday were based on the information available at the time.

He stated, “All those who expressed opinions in those days, at the height of the American psychological war on the Iranian nation (…), did so based on the information that was available at that time.”

– “self-control” –

Germany called on the Iranian authorities to allow citizens to express their grief and demonstrate “peacefully, freely and without restrictions.”

German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebar described the video footage showing what was said to be a security crackdown against the protesters as “very disturbing.”

On Monday, the Tehran police chief said that his officers had received “restraint” directives after the latest rally, which took place on Sunday night in Azadi Square, south of the city center.

General Hussein Rahimi said, “The police did not shoot at the gatherings because of an order to exercise restraint on the police in the capital.”

The office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani stated that he had pledged during a phone call to Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Leuven that Tehran would conduct an “in-depth investigation” into the disaster.

It is reported that most of the people on board the flight “BS 752” stricken are Iranians and Canadians or holders of both nationalities. The rest of the victims were Ukrainians, Afghans and British, along with seven Swedes and ten people residing in the Scandinavian country.

“We must strive to ensure that no such traumatic event occurs anywhere in the world,” Rouhani said.

The President noted that the catastrophe occurred in light of the escalation of tension in the region after the killing of Soleimani in a raid carried out by a US plane operating in Baghdad on January 3.

“We should all join hands to restore security to the region and allow peace to prevail,” he added.

– diplomatic row –

Iran has come under increasing international pressure to ensure that it is fully and transparently investigated.

“This tragedy was a blow to our Iranian-Canadian community,” Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said at a memorial service in Edmonton for the 57 Canadians killed in the incident.

“We want to assure all families and all Canadians that we will not calm down until we get the answers. We will not calm down before justice and accountability prevail.”

Iran has invited experts from Canada, France, Ukraine and the United States to participate in the investigation.

Although the video footage from the disaster site showed what appeared to be bulldozers operating at the site, the IRGC commander denied that the evidence had been tampered with.

“We did not touch anything. We did not move the debris or the plane, nor did we change anything on the site. We did not move the air defense system and did not (alter) the information recorded on the radars,” Major General Hussein Salami told the Shura Council.

On the diplomatic front, Britain summoned the Iranian ambassador to London after its ambassador to Tehran was briefly arrested on suspicion of participating in a demonstration.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that London would express “strong opposition” to the arrest of Rob MacAir, who it described as “an unacceptable violation” of diplomatic rules.

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