Anti-government protesters took to the streets of Iran on Saturday after Tehran admitted that it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet, killing 176 people.
Thousands gathered at the gates of Amir Kabir University, near the former US embassy in Tehran, to denounce the plane crash the government blamed on human error and “US adventurism.”
Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 crashed on Wednesday shortly after taking off from Tehran’s airport. The crash coincidentally timed when Iran fired Iraqi military bases housing US troops in retaliation for a drone strike at Baghdad airport that killed Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani.
Protesters demanded Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to step down and for those responsible for downing the plane to be prosecuted.
Slogans such as “death to the dictator,” were chanted.
A mass vigil commemorating the victims of the doomed flight escalated into an angry demonstration following the government admission, according to Iran’s semiofficial FARS News Agency. University graduates migrating to Canada were among those who perished in the crash.
FARS reported that Iranian police dispersed students who entered and blocked main roads.
“The Islamic Republic of Iran deeply regrets this disastrous mistake. My thoughts and prayers go to all the mourning families,” President Hassan Rouhani said.
After the missile operation in Iraq, US military flights around Iranian borders increased and Iranian military officials reported seeing aerial targets coming toward strategic centers, according to a statement by Iranian armed forces headquarters.
“The aircraft came close to a sensitive IRGC military center at an altitude and flight condition that resembled hostile targeting. Under these circumstances, the aircraft was unintentionally hit, which unfortunately resulted in death of the many Iranian and foreign nationals,” the statement reads.
The victims include 82 Iranians, 63 Canadians, 11 Ukrainians, 10 Swedes, four Afghans, three Germans and three British nationals.
“Human error at time of crisis caused by US adventurism led to disaster,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted.