Iranians bury dead from downed plane after days of rage on the street

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Dubai (Reuters) – Iranians buried their dead from an airliner shot down by the military as authorities on Wednesday identified more of the 176 victims of last week’s crash, which led to days of rage against Iran’s rulers followed by a police crackdown.

Emotions have been running high as the victims of the Jan. 8 crash are mourned. The national flag was ripped from the coffin of one victim when relatives collected the body and the mother shouted “Tear it off,” an online video post showed.

Protesters took to the streets of Iranian cities for four days after the armed forces finally acknowledged on Saturday, after days of denials, that they had brought down the plane. In several places, demonstrators met a fierce police response.

Iranians on social media called for more protests on Wednesday but there was no sign of the kind of rallies of previous days. Instead videos showed riot police massed outside universities, the focal point for demonstrations.

In earlier protests, footage showed police beating protesters, sounds of gunshots, teargas and blood on the ground.

The full scale of the unrest and the crackdown is difficult to determine because of restrictions on independent reporting.

Police denied opening fire and said officers were told to act with restraint. But just two months ago, a crackdown on protests caused by fuel price rises killed hundreds of people.

“The government sees itself under siege from all sides right now and is not going to allow any protest to snowball into a nationwide movement,” said Ali Vaez, director of the Iran Project at the International Crisis Group.

Iran is battling several fronts. A new international crisis has erupted over its nuclear programme, the economy is in tatters under U.S. sanctions and a long-running standoff with the United States briefly spiralled into open conflict.

The plane was downed by air defences when the armed forces were on high alert for U.S. reprisals, hours after Iran launched missiles against U.S. targets in Iraq in retaliation for a U.S. drone strike that killed a top Iranian commander on Jan. 3.

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