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Protests to return to Iran

What happened: Thousands of demonstrators took part in protests in Tehran and other cities over the weekend to condemn the Iranian regime for shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane and killing 176 people.

  • Video footage that emerged on social media showed protesters chanting anti-regime slogans, including: “They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here,” and “[Supreme Leader] Khamenei have shame. Leave the country.” Many of the protesters are women and students.
  • Riot police and plain clothes officers moved into Tehran’s Vali e Asr Square and fired tear gas at the protestors. One video spread on social media showed a woman in pain after being shot in the leg. The nation’s police chief denied officers fired at protesters and said they had been ordered to show restraint.
  • US President Donald Trump tweeted his support for the demonstrators, saying his administration will “continue to stand by you”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced his support for the protesters and called on European powers to increase pressure on the Iranian regime.
  • The UK’s ambassador to Iran, Rob Macaire, was detained by Iranian authorities after attending a vigil in Tehran for the 176 people on board the Ukrainian airlines flight. Iranian state media said Macaire was arrested for orchestrating anti-government protests but later Iranian foreign minister Seyed Abbas Araghchi claimed that the ambassador’s identity was not known to police when they detained him. UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused Iran of committing “a flagrant violation” of the Vienna Convention.
  • Ambassador Macaire said on Twitter: “I wasn’t taking part in any demonstrations! Went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of PS752 tragedy. Normal to want to pay respects – some of victims were British. I left after 5 mins, when some started chanting. Detained half an hour after leaving the area. Arresting diplomats is of course illegal, in all countries.”
  • Iranian state media also reported that members of Iran’s Basij militia, which is affiliated to the IRGC, gathered outside the UK Embassy in Tehran calling it to be closed down.
  • Amid the rising tensions in Iran, eight Katyusha rockets hit Iraq’s Balad Air Base, north of Baghdad, wounding four Iraqi air force officers. No American or coalition forces were at the base when the rockets struck, a US military official told CNN.

Context: The airliner was shot down hours after Iran fired at least 15 missiles at Iraqi military bases housing US troops in retaliation for a drone strike at Baghdad airport that killed Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani.

  • Iran previously denied claims that the country had targeted the plane before admitting the mistake on Saturday. Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei expressed “deep sympathy” to the victims but did not apologise.
  • Hundreds of mourners attended memorials in the Canadian cities of Toronto and Edmonton for the plane’s victims including 57 Canadians. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told a press conference on Saturday: “Canada will not rest until we get the accountability, justice and closure that the families deserve.” Canada has sent a rapid deployment team to Iran to establish a base of operations for the Canadian government in the wake of the accident.
  • Ukraine’s general prosecutor’s office said in a statement that Iran’s admission changed the scope of cause for the crash, saying it was now investigating the incident as a possible case of “wilful killing and aircraft destruction”.
  • The Trump administration on Friday imposed new sanctions on Iran that target Iran’s construction, manufacturing, textiles and mining sectors as well as eight senior officials.

Looking ahead: The protests in Tehran and other cities are the latest upsurge in public anger against the Iranian regime, which is struggling to keep the crippled economy afloat under stringent US sanctions. The handling of the investigation may be crucial to how long and widespread the current protests become.

Were Iran to swiftly bring those responsible to justice then it may be able to isolate and eventually halt the protests. However, if the authorities try to prevent a full and transparent investigation, we could see a return to the violence last November when the regime killed more than one thousand people in a crackdown of nationwide protests.