Downing of Ukrainian plane breathes new life into Iranian protests

Video footage has emerged of protesters tearing down Soleimani’s photos. (Reuters)
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Updated 15 January 2020

Downing of Ukrainian plane breathes new life into Iranian protests

  • As the truth finally emerged about the downing of the plane, protesters’ anger at the US quickly turned against the regime itself

LONDON: Iranian protesters gathered for a third consecutive day at sites across Tehran and other cities to mourn the deaths of 176 people killed in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane, and to protest the government’s handling of the incident.
What began as an exercise in grief is rapidly turning into an expression of anger.
Iran downed the plane following its missile attacks on US military bases in Iraq. The attacks, revenge for the US killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in an airstrike in Baghdad, were met with no immediate response from the US.
Meanwhile, Iranian state-run media say the British ambassador to Iran has left the country after being arrested and briefly detained.
The state-run IRNA news agency said Robert Macaire left after being given prior notice. The report did not elaborate.
Macaire had been held after attending a candlelight vigil Saturday in Tehran over Iran shooting down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing 176 people.
As the truth finally emerged about the downing of the plane, after days of denial and obfuscation from Tehran, protesters’ anger at the US quickly turned against the regime itself.
This has boiled over into demonstrations at universities and other sites across Tehran and multiple other cities.
Video footage has emerged of protesters tearing down pictures of Soleimani, calling him a murderer, and chanting that the Basij — the domestic militia of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — should “go to hell.”
Protesters at Sharif University in Tehran, where many of those in the downed plane had studied or graduated, have been recorded chanting: “They killed our elites and replaced them with mullahs.”
Videos from within Iran appear to have shown the use of live ammunition and teargas against protesters. The recent scenes stand in stark contrast to those that emerged in the wake of Soleimani’s death. Funerals for him were held in cities across Iran, with people coming out in their thousands to mourn.
Writing for the BBC, Dr. Anisah Bassiri Tabrizi, a research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, highlighted the “unprecedented level of unity and popular support” on display during Soleimani’s funeral.
She said this initially appeared to show that “when faced with the external threat of military confrontation, Iranians from different political and economic backgrounds could come together.”
However, Tabrizi added, the regime’s reaction to the downing of the plane made it likely that the unrest that erupted in November and resulted in the deaths of at least 300 people would re-emerge. Footage that continues to surface from protests in Iran appears to confirm this trajectory.
The regime has breathed new life into the public opposition that had been quelled through violence and a near-total internet shutdown.
Dr. Mahsa Rouhi, a research fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said the situation is already directly impacting Iranian politics.
The Guardian Council, the body responsible for approving parliamentary candidates, has just disqualified many moderate and reformist candidates who intended to run in February’s elections.
This, Rouhi said, means that hard-line voices are now more likely to dominate the next Parliament.

US blasts Houthis over ‘ticking time bomb’ tanker in Red Sea

Updated 1 min 49 sec ago

US blasts Houthis over ‘ticking time bomb’ tanker in Red Sea

  • Iran-backed militias renege on agreement to allow UN inspectors aboard stricken vessel holding 1.4 million barrels of oil

AL-MUKALLA, Yemen: The US blasted Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen on Sunday for reneging on a deal to allow UN teams to board a rusting oil storage vessel that threatens an environmental disaster in the Red Sea.

The FSO Safer has been moored 7 km off the coast of Yemen since 1988. It fell into Houthi hands in March 2015, when they took control of the coast around the port city of Hodeidah.

The Houthis briefly bowed to pressure last month and agreed to allow a team of UN engineers to visit the ship, before changing their minds and restating their previous demands for the revenue from the oil. As the vessel’s condition deteriorates there are fears that the 1.4 million barrels of oil it contains will start to
seep out.

“The Houthis have failed to follow through on their agreement to allow a UN team on to the Safer,” the White House National Security Council said on Sunday.

“They are courting environmental and humanitarian disaster by obstructing and delaying. For the good of Yemen and the region, the Houthis must allow the UN aboard the Safer.”

A recent water leak into the tanker’s engine prompted warnings of a major disaster.

“The time has come for a resolute response for an outcome,” the Yemen Embassy in Washington said on Sunday. 

“There cannot be more delays or deliberations. UN inspectors must immediately access and assess the Safer oil tanker even without Houthi permission.”

The UK echoed its concerns. “There is another floating disaster off the Yemeni coast with potentially as massive an ecological footprint as the shockwave that engulfed Beirut,” former Middle East minister Alistair Burt said. “The politics preventing safe evacuation of the oil must stop immediately.”