JEDDAH: Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei faced calls to step down on Sunday amid growing anger after the Iranian military shot down a passenger jet and killed 176 people.
Demonstrations erupted across the country for a second day on Sunday, with protesters saying the regime leaders’ failure to ground civilian flights at a time of escalating confrontation with the US showed they had no concern for the lives of ordinary Iranians.
“They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here,” demonstrators chanted outside Shahid Beheshti University in Tehran.
Iran’s usually compliant media joined in the protests, and Ayatollah Khamenei was the subject of unprecedented criticism. “Apologize and resign,” the Etemad daily said in a front page headline.
The “people’s demand” was for those responsible for the plane disaster to quit, the newspaper said. Even hardline media outlets had headlines such as “Shame” and “Unforgivable.”
Opposition activist Mehdi Karroubi said Khamenei was “directly responsible” for the disaster as commander in chief of Iran’s military.
“If you were aware and you let military and security authorities deceive people, then there is no doubt you lack the attributes of constitutional leadership,” he said.
As the protests in Tehran grew, riot police in black uniforms and helmets assembled in Vali-e Asr Square, Tehran University and other landmarks. Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) soldiers patrolled the city, along with plainclothes security forces and members of the feared Basij militia.
US President Donald Trump warned the regime: “Do not kill your protesters. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the world is watching. Stop the killing of your great Iranian people.”
The Ukraine Airlines flight from Tehran to Kiev was shot down on Wednesday minutes after it took off. Most who died were Iranians or Iranian-Canadian dual nationals. Anger mounted in Iran when it emerged that an IRGC commander told authorities about the missile strike on the day it happened, but they denied it for three days.
US Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the protests showed Iranians wanted change. “They are standing up and asserting their rights, their aspirations for a better government — a different regime,” he said. arab news