Iran announces arrests for demolition of Ukrainian plane

DUBAI: Iran's judiciary said Tuesday that arrests were made for the accidental demolition of a Ukrainian passenger plane that killed the 176 people on board just after Tehran's takeoff last week.

The announcement came amid a surge of anger and protests by Iranians in recent days over the demolition of the plane last Wednesday and the apparent attempts of senior officials in Iran to cover up the cause of the accident.

Iran, which initially rejected accusations that a missile had shot down the plane, acknowledged only on Saturday, three days later and in the face of growing evidence, that its Revolutionary Guard had shot down the plane by mistake.

The spokesman for the judiciary, Gholamhossein Esmaili, was summoned by Iranian state media saying that extensive investigations have been carried out and some people are arrested. He did not say how many people had been arrested or named them.

The president of Iran also asked on Tuesday to establish a special court to investigate the incident.

The judiciary must form a special court with a high-ranking judge and dozens of experts, the president said in a televised speech in Iran. This is not an ordinary case. Everyone will be watching this court.

Rouhani described the incident as a painful and unforgivable mistake and promised that his administration would pursue the case by all means.

The responsibility lies with more than one person, he said, adding that the culprits should be punished.

There are also others, and I want this topic to be expressed honestly, he said, without giving further details.

Rouhani called the government's admission that Iranian forces shot down the plane as the first good step.

The plane, en route to the Ukrainian capital of Kiev, carried 167 passengers and nine crew members from several countries, including 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians, including many Iranians with dual citizenship, and 11 Ukrainians, according to officials. There were several children among the passengers, including a baby.

Iran shot down the plane as it prepared for possible reprisals by the United States for a ballistic missile attack on two military bases that house US troops in Iraq. No one was injured in that attack, which was carried out to avenge the impressive assassination of General of the Revolutionary Guards Qassem Suleimani in an American air strike in Baghdad.

Gen., the head of the aerospace division of the Guard, said over the weekend that his unit accepts full responsibility for the demolition. He said that when he learned about the plane's demolition, I wished I was dead.

The incident raised questions about why Iran did not close its international airport or airspace the day it prepared for US military reprisals.

The demolition and lack of transparency around it have rekindled anger in Iran over the country's leadership. The online videos seemed to show security forces firing real ammunition and tear gas to disperse street protests.

Also on Tuesday, the Iranian judiciary said 30 people had been arrested in the protests and some were released, without giving further details.

Iranian authorities briefly arrested British Ambassador Rob Macaire on Saturday night. He said he went to a candlelight vigil to pay his respects to the victims of the demolition of the Ukrainian plane and left as soon as the singing began and became a protest.

Iran's Foreign Ministry called the British ambassador on Sunday to protest what he said was his presence in an illegal protest. Britain, in turn, convened the Iranian ambassador on Monday to convey our strong objections to the arrest of the weekend.

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