Iran Warns Protesters as It Grapples With Unrest Over Plane Crash


TEHRAN—Iranian authorities warned protesters not to stage further antigovernment demonstrations, as a video appeared to show security forces using tear gas to contain protests over the weekend.

The demonstrations broke out after the Iranian military on Saturday said it unintentionally shot down a Ukrainian passenger airliner last week, killing all 176 people on board, after denying for days that it was responsible. The protesters denounced what they called lying and incompetence by the country’s leadership.

Tehran’s metropolitan police chief,

Hossein Rahimi,

on Monday warned “abusers of the situation” that the country’s security forces would zealously defend the security of the Iranian people.

Video shared by the U.S.-based Center for Human Rights in Iran and verified by the Associated Press appeared to show gunshot injuries and tear gas being used against protesters. But Mr. Rahimi denied his forces had opened fire to quell the protests over the weekend, saying they had acted with self-restraint, the semiofficial Fars news agency reported.

A vigil planned by families of the plane-crash victims at Sharif University in Tehran, where 15 of those who were killed in the crash studied, was canceled on Monday because of security concerns, a notice on the university’s website said.

While the latest protests have remained small, Tehran is facing a combustible mix of political and economic grievances as it braces for more demonstrations.

Protests erupted across the country in November against austerity measures that raised fuel prices, aimed at shoring up government finances during a deep economic crisis, exacerbated by U.S. sanctions. Authorities responded with force, killing hundreds of people, rights groups and Iran-based reformist media say.

Iranian leaders, faced with international and domestic outrage, have sought to shift blame for the initial misinformation about the crash.

President

Hassan Rouhani’s

government on Monday faulted the military for misinforming the Iranian people, saying it had only received the investigation results on Friday evening, more than two days after the plane went down.

Flight 752’s path

IMAM KHOMEINI

INTERNATIONAL

AIRPORT

Plane takes off

6:12 a.m.

Taxis

to runway

6:08 a.m.

Iranian officials said the plane started to turn back to the airport because of a technical fault

Range of the SA-15

missile (12 km)

Note: All times are local. Flight path after last signal is unknown.

Sources: Flightradar24 (flight path); Google (image)

Renée Rigdon and Todd Lindeman/The Wall Street Journal

IMAM KHOMEINI

INTERNATIONAL

AIRPORT

Plane takes off

6:12 a.m.

Taxis

to runway

6:08 a.m.

Iranian officials said the plane started to turn back to the airport because of a technical fault

Range of the SA-15

missile (12 km)

Note: All times are local. Flight path after last signal is unknown.

Sources: Flightradar24 (flight path); Google (image)

Renée Rigdon and Todd Lindeman/The Wall Street Journal

IMAM KHOMEINI

INTERNATIONAL

AIRPORT

Plane takes off

6:12 a.m.

Taxis

to runway

6:08 a.m.

Iranian officials said the plane started to turn back to the airport because of a technical fault

Range of the SA-15

missile (12 km)

Note: All times are local. Flight path after last signal is unknown.

Sources: Flightradar24 (flight path); Google (image)

Renée Rigdon and Todd Lindeman/The Wall Street Journal

IMAM KHOMEINI

INTERNATIONAL

AIRPORT

Plane takes off

6:12 a.m.

Taxis

to runway

6:08 a.m.

Iranian officials said the plane started to turn back to the airport because of a technical fault

Range of the SA-15

missile (12 km)

Note: All times are local. Flight path after last signal is unknown.

Sources: Flightradar24 (flight path); Google (image)

Renée Rigdon and Todd Lindeman/The Wall Street Journal

Range of the SA-15

missile (12 km)

IMAM KHOMEINI

INTERNATIONAL

AIRPORT

Plane takes off

6:12 a.m.

Taxis

to runway

6:08 a.m.

Iranian officials said the plane started to turn back to the airport because of a technical fault

Note: All times are local. Flight path after last signal is unknown.

Sources: Flightradar24 (flight path); Google (image)

Renée Rigdon and Todd Lindeman/The Wall Street Journal

“We didn’t lie. Lying is consciously and intentionally faking something to hide the truth,” government spokesman

Ali Rabiei

was quoted as saying by the IRNA state news agency. Any comments by the government were made, he said, based on “the information that was assumed reliable at the moment.”

After receiving the information Friday evening, the president called for a meeting in the Supreme National Security Council, Mr. Rabiei said. That meeting led to the admission of responsibility on Saturday.

Iranian police officers took position while protesters gather in front of Amir Kabir University in Tehran on Saturday to remember victims of a Ukrainian airplane shot down by an Iranian missile.


Photo:

Associated Press

“The reality is that the government itself was stuck in the faulty circle of announcing information and gathering information,” Mr. Rabiei said.

The military has said it didn’t mislead the population or the world after the crash, but that it took three days to find out what happened. The commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, Maj. Gen.

Hossein Salami,

said that if he hadn’t suggested the cause of the crash was a missile strike, nobody would have found out.

However, Ukrainian officials have said Iran’s admission only came after Ukrainian investigators found evidence that forced Tehran to admit it accidentally shot down the jet.

The commander responsible for the Revolutionary Guard’s missile arsenal, Brig. Gen.

Amir Ali Hajizadeh,

said over the weekend that the operator who fired the missile mistook the Boeing 737-800 for an incoming cruise missile. At the time, Iran’s air defenses were on high alert for a U.S. attack, hours after Iran had struck bases in Iraq housing American forces.

Protesters carry an injured woman to the sidewalk’s edge near Azadi Square, in Tehran, in an image captured from video.


Photo:

UGC/Associated Press

The head of Canada’s transportation safety agency on Monday said Iranian officials have offered to give its investigators access to the wreckage of the Ukraine International Airlines flight and the black-box data from the aircraft.

Kathy Fox,

who chairs the Transportation Safety Board, said that level of access goes beyond Iran’s legal obligations, since the aircraft wasn’t designed or manufactured in Canada and the operator isn’t based in Canada.

Canadian officials have said 57 of the 176 people on the flight were Canadian.

Ms. Fox said two Canadian investigators were on their way to Iran on Monday and were expected to meet with their Iranian counterparts on Tuesday. Two more investigators will be deployed to participate in the downloading and analysis of the cockpit voice and flight data recorders.

She said the voice and flight recorders are still in Iran and are damaged, but said she couldn’t give an assessment of the extent of that damage.

This weekend’s protests represent a sharp break from the mass demonstration of national unity a week ago, when hundreds of thousands of Iranians gathered in funeral processions for Maj. Gen.

Qassem Soleimani,

the country’s most prominent military commander, who was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad.

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While working to keep domestic protesters in line, Iran has sought to prevent international tensions, particularly with the U.S., from spinning out of control. This weekend, Iranian officials met with several regional power brokers that in the past have acted as intermediaries with Washington.

Mr. Rouhani on Sunday met with the visiting emir of Qatar,

Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani,

and Pakistani Foreign Minister Shah

Mehmood Qureshi.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister

Javad Zarif

visited the new ruler of Oman,

Haitham bin Tariq

al-Said.

“This visit comes at a critical time in the region,” Mr. Thani said at a press conference in Tehran after meeting Mr. Rouhani. “The only solution to these crises is de-escalation from everyone and dialogue.”

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Write to Sune Engel Rasmussen at sune.rasmussen@wsj.com

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