Tensions high as Iran leaders say military lied over plane
Tensions between Iran's government and the Revolutionary Guard spilled into the open last night as the president's office accused the elite military force of misleading it over the accidental shooting down of a civilian airliner.
As protesters took to the streets for a third consecutive day, allies of Hassan Rouhani, the democratically elected president, appeared to be directing the public's anger toward their more hardline rivals in the Revolutionary Guard.
A spokesman for Mr Rouhani said the Revolutionary Guard had falsely told the president it had not been involved as he tried to explain why Iran spent the first days after the crash denying responsibility for the 176 deaths.
"All relevant authorities had assured us there had been no missile involved in the downing of the plane," said Ali Rabiei, a government spokesman.
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Meanwhile, a leaked recording appeared to show a Revolutionary Guard officer complaining that Mr Rouhani's administration was hanging them out to dry as they faced widespread fury over the incident.
The recording, published by the Iranian opposition site Pyk Net, purported to capture on film an unnamed Revolutionary Guard commander addressing comrades, urging them to weather the political storm.
"The statement by the government admitting the cause of air crash was disgraceful," he said. "The statement should not have blamed the entire Revolutionary Guard and could have just said it was the fault of one individual."
The commander went on to suggest the government could have waited "two or three months" before announcing the real cause of the crash, to allow the Guard more time to bask in public support after the killing of Qasem Soleimani and the missile barrage fired against US forces in Iraq.
He added that the Rouhani administration was failing to show gratitude for crushing anti-government protests last year. Several hundred civilians died in the crackdown.
"The November protests were caused by the Rouhani government but the Revolutionary Guard sacrificed itself and put them down, but this time the government is passive in the face of the attacks on the Revolutionary Guard," he said.
Two female protesters were reportedly shot and wounded in Tehran on Sunday night, while students protested yesterday at Sharif university in Tehran, widely considered one of Iran's top academic institutions.
Tensions between the relatively moderate government and the hard line Revolutionary Guard have been building for years as Mr Rouhani advocated diplomacy with the West and Guard commanders called for continuing isolation.
But faced with public anger over the fate of Ukrainian Flight PS752 - and with elections looming in February - the sides appeared to be at particularly bitter odds.
Riot police faced down protesters denouncing Iran's clerical rulers yesterday, amid anger after authorities acknowledged shooting down a passenger plane by accident.
Video from inside Iran showed students yesterday chanting slogans including "Clerics get lost!" outside universities in the city of Isfahan and in Tehran, where riot police were filmed taking up positions on the streets of the capital.
Images emerged from the previous two days of protests showing wounded people being carried and pools of blood on the ground, while the sound of gunfire could be heard.
Authorities denied that police had opened fire. US President Donald Trump, who raised the stakes on January 3 by ordering the killing of Iran's most powerful military commander, tweeted to Iran's leaders: "don't kill your protesters."
Tehran has acknowledged shooting down the Ukrainian jetliner by mistake on Wednesday, killing 176 people, hours after it had fired at US targets in Iraq to retaliate for the killing of General Qasem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad.
Iranian public anger, rumbling for days as Iran repeatedly denied it was to blame for the plane crash, erupted into protests on Saturday when the military admitted its role.