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Iran’s Rohani Calls For National Unity After Officials ‘Lied’ About Plane Downing

Iranian President Hassan Rohani has called for national unity amid continued protests in Iran over the downing of a Ukrainian passenger airliner by the country’s air defenses a week ago.

The call for calm, delivered in a televised speech during a cabinet meeting on January 15, came as Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said at a conference in India that people have been demonstrating “against the fact that they were lied to for a couple of days.”

“The people want to make sure that the authorities treat them with sincerity, integrity, and trust,” Rohani said, calling on the armed forces to “apologize” and explain what exactly happened in the tragedy.

Flight PS752 was brought down after it took off from Tehran on January 8, killing all 176 people on board. Most of the victims were Iranian and Canadian nationals.

The crash occurred with Iran’s air-defense forces on high alert following an Iranian ballistic-missile attack a few hours earlier against U.S. forces in Iraq.

Daily protests have been held in Iranian cities since January 11, after the country’s military admitted the Ukraine International Airlines (UIA) Boeing 737-800 was shot down “unintentionally” by an antiaircraft missile.

Zarif’s comments were the first by an Iranian official that referred to initial statements by authorities that vehemently denied the passenger jet was downed by missile fire.

He claimed that he and Rohani only found out the truth on the cause of the disaster on January 10.

Zarif also blamed U.S. “ignorance” and “arrogance” for “fueling mayhem” in the Middle East.

Rohani also lashed out at Europe in his speech for the triggering on January 14 of a dispute mechanism in a 2015 nuclear accord by Britain, France and Germany for Tehran’s non-compliance with terms of the deal.

“Today, the American soldier is in danger, tomorrow the European soldier could be in danger,” Rohani said without elaborating.

On January 14, Rohani called for a special court to be set up to investigate the downing of the plane and said that all those responsible for the “unforgivable error” must be “punished.”

Meanwhile, Iran’s judiciary announced on January 14 the first arrests made over the air disaster, without naming them or specifying how many.

Amirali Hajizadeh, the head of the aerospace division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), has said that his unit accepts “full responsibility” for the tragedy.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei expressed his “deep sympathy” to the families of the 176 victims and called on the armed forces to “pursue probable shortcomings and guilt in the painful incident.”

With reporting by AFP, AP, and Reuters
Copyright (c) 2014. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave NW, Ste 400, Washington DC 20036.

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