President Donald Trump announces proposed rollbacks to the National Environmental Policy Act regulations during an event in Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, January 9, 2020.
Kevin Lamarque | Reuters
President Donald Trump expressed solidarity with Iranian protesters on Saturday, as they took to the streets of Tehran after the Islamic Republic admitted it accidentally shot down a Ukraine-bound airliner, killing all 176 people on board the Boeing aircraft.
Trump, in Twitter messages written in both Farsi and English, called on Tehran to allow human rights groups to report facts from the ground and warned the government that the “world is watching.”
Hundreds of protesters in Tehran chanted anti-government slogans against the Islamic Republic’s leaders on Saturday, according to Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency. The protesters, who numbered between 700 to 1,000, tore up pictures of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq last week.
Video clips posted on Twitter showed protesters chanting “Death to the dictator” in reference to the country’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to Reuters.
The protests come after Iran’s military admitted that Ukraine International Airlines flight PS752 was shot down by Iranian missiles due to “human error.” Iran’s government previously said it was not responsible for the crash, dismissing allegations that its missiles had downed the plane as “a big lie.”
Tehran reversed its position as international pressure mounted. According to the Iranian military, the Revolutionary Guard Corps was on high alert amid tensions with the U.S. over the killing of Soleimani. The airline took off just minutes after Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said ballistic missile attacks on two U.S. bases in Iraq had ended, according to flight tracking data.
The Ukraine-bound Boeing 737-800 was accidentally targeted when it approached a Revolutionary Guard Corps base while making a sharp turn, the military said in an official statement. A senior Revolutionary Guards commander later said on state TV Saturday that the plane had been mistaken for a cruise missile.
All 176 passengers and crew members aboard the aircraft died in the crash. Eleven Ukrainians, 82 Iranians and 63 Canadians were among the dead. Ten passengers were from Sweden, four from Afghanistan, three from Germany and three from the United Kingdom.
The protests in Tehran Saturday are only the latest round of demonstrations. In November, hundreds took to the streets to protest rising fuel prices, calling for the country’s leaders to step down. The government launched a crackdown to quash the unrest, resulting in hundreds of deaths. Reuters has reported 1,500 died in the crackdown while the human rights group Amnesty International said more than 300 died.
— CNBC’s Natasha Turak contributed to this report