Protesters denouncing Iran‘s clerical rulers took to the streets and riot police deployed to face them in a third day of demonstrations after authorities acknowledged shooting down a passenger plane by accident.
Demonstrations, some apparently met by a violent crackdown, were the latest twist in one of the most serious escalations between the United States and Iran since the 1979 Iranian revolution swept the US-backed shah from power.
Video from inside Iran showed students on Monday chanting slogans including “Clerics get lost!” outside universities in the city of Isfahan and in Tehran, where riot police were filmed taking positions on the streets.
Video sent to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran and later verified by The Associated Press showed a crowd of demonstrators near Azadi, or Freedom Square fleeing as a tear gas canister landed among them.
People coughed and sputtered 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!”
Another video showed a woman being carried away in the aftermath as a blood trail was seen on the ground. Those around her cried out that she has been shot by live ammunition in the leg.
“Oh my God, she’s bleeding nonstop!” one person shouted. Another shouted: “Bandage it!”
Images from the previous two days of protests showed wounded people being carried and pools of blood on the ground. Gunshots could be heard, although the police denied opening fire.
US President Donald Trump, who raised the stakes last week by ordering the killing in a drone strike of Iran’s most powerful military commander, tweeted to Iran’s leaders: “Don’t kill your protesters.”
Tehran acknowledged shooting down the Ukrainian jetliner by mistake last Wednesday, killing all 176 aboard, hours after it fired at US targets in Iraq to retaliate for the killing on January 3 of General Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad.
Iranian public anger, rumbling for days as Iran repeatedly denied it was to blame for the plane crash, erupted into protests on Saturday when the military admitted its role.
Dozens of protesters were videoed at sites in Tehran and Isfahan, a major city south of the capital.
“They killed our elites and replaced them with clerics,” they chanted outside a Tehran university, referring to Iranian students returning to studies in Canada who were on the plane.
State-affiliated media has reported protests in Tehran and other cities but has provided few details.
“Police treated people who had gathered with patience and tolerance,” Tehran Police Chief Hossein Rahimi said in a statement on state media.
“At protests, police absolutely did not shoot because the capital’s police officers have been given orders to show restraint.”
Tehran’s showdown with Washington has come at a precarious time for the authorities in Iran and the proxy forces they support to wield influence across the Middle East. Sanctions imposed by Trump have hammered the Iranian economy.
Iran’s authorities killed hundreds of protesters in November in what appears to have been the bloodiest crackdown on anti-government unrest since 1979. In Iraq and Lebanon, governments supported by Iran-backed armed groups have faced mass protests.
Adding to international pressure on Tehran, five nations, including Canada, Britain and Ukraine, whose citizens died when the Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737 was shot down, meet in London on Thursday to discuss possible legal action, Ukraine’s foreign minister said.