Iran makes arrests in plane shootdown, police crack down on protests

Dubai (Reuters) – Iran said on Tuesday it had arrested people accused of a role in shooting down a Ukrainian airliner and had also detained 30 people involved in protests that have swept the nation for four days since the military belatedly admitted its error.

Wednesday’s shooting down of Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, which killed all 176 people aboard, has created a new crisis for the Islamic Republic’s clerical rulers.

President Hassan Rouhani promised a thorough investigation into the “unforgivable error” in an address on Tuesday. It was the latest in a series of apologies by the leadership that has done little to quell public anger.

Britain, France and Germany also increased diplomatic pressure on Iran, launching a dispute mechanism to challenge Tehran for breaching limits on its nuclear programme under an agreement which Washington abandoned in 2018.

Tehran has faced an escalating confrontation with the West and a wave of unrest since the United States killed Iran’s most powerful military commander in a drone strike on Jan. 3.

Iran shot down the plane on Wednesday when its military was on high alert, hours after firing missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq. It admitted the mistake on Saturday after days of denials.

On Tuesday night, an Iraqi military camp at Taji, north of Baghdad, was hit by Katyusha rockets but no casualties were reported, an Iraqi military statement said.

Judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said some of those accused of having a role in the plane disaster had been arrested, although he did not say how many or identify them.

Since the official admission, protesters, many of them students, have held daily demonstrations, chanting “Clerics get lost!” and calling for the removal of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in power for more than 30 years.

Police have responded to some protests with a violent crackdown, video posts on social media showed, with police beating protesters with batons, wounded people being carried, pools of blood on the streets and the sound of gunfire.

A video that emerged on Tuesday showed an officer using an electric baton to shock a man as he writhed on the ground.

Iran’s police have denied firing at protesters and said officers were ordered to act with restraint. The judiciary said 30 people had been detained in the unrest but said the authorities would show tolerance towards “legal protests”.