Mass protests have again broken out in Iran at the end of a chaotic week for the country, capped by the early Saturday admission and apology for the military accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 people on board.
Additionally, it appears that the British ambassador in Tehran, Rob Macaire, was arrested shortly after photographing the protests. Iranian state sources are alleging he was helping to “organize” and incite the protests.
The UK ambassador to Iran Rob Macaire has been arrested during the protests in Tehran on Saturday, Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported.
Macaire was present during the Saturday protests in front of Tehran’s Amir Kabir University and was arrested then, Tasnim’s report said.
— Strategic Sentinel (@StratSentinel) January 11, 2020
Though he’s reportedly already been released, the incident is likely to spark a major diplomatic row between the UK and Iran, given it’s almost unheard of to arrest a country’s highest diplomatic official.
In the first major protests since the Jan.2 US assassination of IRGC Quds Force chief Qasem Soleimani, angry student-led demonstrations broke out in front of Tehran’s Amir Kabir university demanding that Iran’s leaders, including Ayatollah Khamenei step down over their initially concealing the truth about the airline downing.
“Commander-in-chief [Khamenei] resign, resign!” videos posted to Twitter showed Saturday.
However, their size in the hundreds paled in comparison with prior anti-government protests in the tens of thousands last November across multiple cities, which actually saw possibly hundreds killed in clashes with police which often involved live gunfire to put down the crowds by security forces.
— Negar Mortazavi (@NegarMortazavi) January 11, 2020
n a rarity, Iranian state media also acknowledged the new anti-government unrest fueled by news that it was Iran’s Revolutionary Guards which shot down the passenger jet, and not “mechanical failure” as was initially claimed.
As Reuters describes of the semi-official Fars report:
The report said the demonstrators on the street also ripped up pictures of Qassem Soleimani, the prominent commander of the Guard’s Quds Force who was killed in a U.S. drone strike.
The agency, widely seen as close to the Guards, carried pictures of the gathering and a torn banner of Soleimani. It said the protesters numbered about 700 to 1,000 people.
Video also showed moments where police rushed in to attempt to quash the growing protests, which could turn into bigger demonstrations Sunday.
Iranian forces lashing out at protestors again… pic.twitter.com/TfCqRST6uG
— Bessma Momani (@b_momani) January 11, 2020
One regional report cited an Iranian protester’s grievances as follows:
“They were so careful not to kill any American in their revenge for Soleimani. But they did not close the airport? This shows how much this regime cares for Iranians,” said Iranian citizen Mira Sedaghati after the Iranian military admitted mistakenly shooting down the jet.
It also appears Iran’s significant political opposition in exile is seizing on the dramatic events of this week, with exiled Persian Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi issuing a statement on Saturday saying, “This is not human error. This is a crime against humanity.”
He added in the Twitter statement: “He who has irresponsibly empowered his thugs to fire at will at innocents bears full responsibility. Enough is Enough. Khamenei and his regime must go.”