DUBAI – Popular anger swelled Monday in Iran over the accidental shootdown 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.
Those sentiments first boiled over late Saturday, shortly after the Revolutionary Guard admitted shooting the plane down by mistake. A candlelight vigil at a university rapidly turned into an anti-government demonstration.
“They are lying that our enemy is America! Our enemy is right here!” students shouted.
On Sunday night, protesters massed in Tehran's Azadi, or Freedom, Square.
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 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!”