(CNSNews.com) – Iranian students and others angered by the shooting down of a passenger plane demonstrated against the regime for a second day Sunday, with chants equating supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to the IRGC Qods Force’s dead commander Qassem Soleimani.
President Trump in a series of weekend tweets expressed support for the Iranian people, warned the country’s leaders against a violent clampdown, and also said he “couldn’t care less” about negotiating with the regime.
The regime’s admission, after initial denials, that an Iranian missile had downed a Ukrainian passenger plane prompted new protests in several cities, many at university campuses. In Tehran, riot police used teargas to disperse demonstrators.
According to accounts from Iranian opposition groups, and video clips posted on social media, protestors tore down large posters bearing the image of Soleimani – killed in a U.S. airstrike in Baghdad on January 3 – and chanted slogans saying Khamenei, like Soleimani, is a “murderer.”
“Shame, shame on Khamenei,” protestors shouted. “Death to this theocracy.”
“Soleimani is a murderer. His Leader is also a murderer,” some chanted. “Our enemy is right here. They lie, saying it’s America.”
“The protest by thousands of Iranians in Tehran and a number of other cities today and this evening burst the propaganda balloon of the regime regarding Qassem Soleimani’s elimination,” said Shahin Gobadi, a Paris-based spokesman for the exiled National Council of Resistance of Iran/Mujahideen-e Khalq.
Since last November, anti-regime protests have taken place in cities and towns across Iran, prompting arguably the harshest regime crackdown on popular dissent since the 1979 revolution, accompanied by Internet blackouts. More than 1,000 and possibly 1,500 people are believed to have been killed.
Fresh anger boiled over in the aftermath of the crash last Wednesday of a Kyiv-bound Ukraine International Airlines plane. All 176 people onboard, many of them dual-citizen Iranians, were killed when the Boeing 737 was downed, minutes after taking off from Tehran. Fifty-seven of the victims were Canadian nationals.
Two days later, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) admitted the plane had been mistaken for an enemy cruise missile and shot down in error.
Even then, some regime officials sought to blame the United States for the incident, saying Iranian forces had been on high alert for potential U.S. retaliation. Hours earlier the IRGC had fired ballistic missiles at bases in Iraq where U.S. forces are stationed, in response to the killing of Soleimani.
“Human error at time of crisis caused by U.S. adventurism led to disaster,” tweeted Foreign Minister Javad Zarif on Saturday.
The secretary of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council denied on Sunday that the regime had tried to cover up the reasons for the crash.
“The announcement of the real cause of the Ukrainian plane crash took some time due to the necessity of examining all the possible theories, including possible enemy actions in jamming, hacking of systems, infiltration, and other related factors,” Iran’s Press TV quoted Ali Shamkhani as saying.
Trump posted several tweets at the weekend, reacting to the protests.
To the brave, long-suffering people of Iran: I’ve stood with you since the beginning of my Presidency, and my Administration will continue to stand with you. We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage.
The government of Iran must allow human rights groups to monitor and report facts from the ground on the ongoing protests by the Iranian people. There can not be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown. The world is watching.
To the leaders of Iran - DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching. More importantly, the USA is watching. Turn your internet back on and let reporters roam free! Stop the killing of your great Iranian people!
On Fox News Sunday, National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien said the administration’s pressure campaign on Tehran was working. “Iran is being choked off, and Iran is going to have no other choice but to come to the table,” he said.
Trump then tweeted again:
National Security Adviser suggested today that sanctions & protests have Iran ‘choked off’, will force them to negotiate. Actually, I couldn’t care less if they negotiate. Will be totally up to them but, no nuclear weapons and ‘don’t kill your protesters.’
All of the tweets were posted in English and Farsi. The Farsi version of the tweet beginning “To the brave, long-suffering people of Iran …” was liked more than 350,000 times.
Regime officials were unimpressed with Trump’s decision to tweet in the Iranian language.
“Hands and tongues smeared with threatening, sanctioning and terrorizing the Iranian nation, are not entitled to dishonor the ancient Persian language,” tweeted Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman, Abbas Mousavi.
Abbas Salehi, Iran’s minister of culture and Islamic guidance, also questioned Trump’s use of Farsi, recalling the president’s threat last weekend to target sites in Iran important to “Iranian culture,” if Iran again attacks Americans, or American assets.