Plane crash in Ukraine: Iran makes the first arrests for the shot down of a plane

TEHRAN: Iran announced on Tuesday its first arrests for the demolition of a Ukrainian plane last week, while fighting to contain the consequences of the disaster that caused three days of protests.

The Ukraine International Airlines plane was shot down by a missile shortly after takeoff on Wednesday, killing 176 passengers and crew on board.

Iran has been under increasing international pressure to ensure that its investigation of the tragedy is complete and transparent.

The handling of the air disaster by the authorities has also angered some Iranians. The videos posted online on Monday were intended to show hundreds of protesters taking to the streets for the third consecutive night, apparently shouting slogans against the Islamic Republic.

Protesters chanted Death to the dictator on Sunday, the Fars news agency reported, a rare move to a country where media outlets generally refer to protesters as protesters and refrain from publishing such slogans.

The protests have been much smaller than the nationwide demonstrations against rising fuel prices that turned deadly in November.

For days, Tehran denied Western claims based on US intelligence that the Boeing 737 had been shot down by a missile.

On Saturday it was clean when the aerospace commander of the Revolutionary Guard, Brigadier General Amirali Hajizadeh, acknowledged that a missile operator had confused the plane with an airplane and opened fire independently.

At a televised press conference, the judiciary announced that the first arrests had been made for the dire mistake, without specifying how many.

Extensive investigations have been carried out and some people have been arrested, spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili said.

The announcement came shortly after the president said that all those responsible for the disaster should be punished.

For our people it is very important in this incident that anyone who has been guilty or negligent at any level faces justice, Rouhani said.

Anyone who should be punished should be punished.

The judiciary must form a special court with a high-ranking judge and dozens of experts ... Everyone will be watching, Rouhani said.

It cannot be that only the person who pressed the button is to blame. There are others, and I want this to be explicitly explained to people.

The plane bound for Kiev was shot down at a time when Iran's armed forces were on high alert after launching a missile discharge at Iraqi bases that house US troops.

Iran fired the missiles in retaliation for a US drone attack on January 3 that killed Qasim Suleimani, the head of the Guard's foreign operations arm.

In addressing that issue on Tuesday, Rouhani said the root of all penalties goes back to the United States ... this cannot be a reason for us not to examine all the root causes of the air disaster.

The president also demanded that the officials explain why the authorities took so long to announce the true cause of the air disaster.

They must explain the whole process. From Wednesday morning when the incident occurred until Friday night's meeting. They should explain this whole process to people, Rouhani said.

But more important than anything else, in my opinion, is that our people should be sure that this incident will not be repeated. Iran has invited experts from Canada, France, Ukraine and the United States to participate in the investigation of the air disaster.

On Monday night, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada said its investigators flying to Tehran will be granted access to the remains and flight recorders of the black box of the fallen plane.

There have been early signs that Iran is allowing the TSB to play a more active role than is normally allowed, said its president, Kathy Fox.

On the diplomatic front, Britain summoned the Iranian ambassador on Monday to present his strong objections after his Tehran envoy, Rob Macaire, was briefly arrested for allegedly attending a demonstration on Sunday night.

But Iran responded, calling for an immediate stop to all interference and provocation by the British embassy.

The judicial spokesman on Tuesday described Macaire on Tuesday as an undesirable element and said his obligations under international treaties are clear.