Students protesting the Iranian regime at a university in Tehran refused to trample on an American flag painted on the ground in the path of their march, according to social media posts.
Footage, posted to Twitter by Iranian outlets critical of the government, appeared to capture a crowd of several hundred protestors at the university going out of their way not to walk on the U.S. flag or an Israeli flag painted alongside it.
Those who did walk on the flags were chastised by others, the Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported.
— مملکته (@mamlekate) January 12, 2020
— اتاق خبر منوتو (@ManotoNews) January 12, 2020
Watch how Iranian students refuse to step on American & the flag of Israel.
This should embarrassed Iranian regime & their propaganda funeral for #Soleimani where people were told to chant “Death To America”.
Now people in Iran chanting “Death to Islamic Republic dictatorship.” pic.twitter.com/hTxDuxZeaB
— Masih Alinejad ?️ (@AlinejadMasih) January 12, 2020
The videos did not identify the university where the protests were taking place.
Iran protesters refused to be distracted by an American flag
Across Iran on Sunday, protesters took to the streets to demand the state’s top leadership quit. The display of anger came after the Iranian military admitted it had mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian airliner at a time when it had feared U.S. strikes.
“They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here,” dozens of protesters outside a university in Tehran chanted, according to video clips posted on Twitter. Scores of demonstrators were also shown gathered in other cities.
Perhaps people should pause before assuming that massive funerals orchestrated by authoritarian regimes provide solid evidence of national unity. https://t.co/FenKQL5rIU
— David French (@DavidAFrench) January 11, 2020
The social media posts could not be verified by Reuters. But state-affiliated media had reported protests on Saturday shortly after the Iranian military apologized for mistakenly bringing down the Ukrainian plane on Wednesday, killing all 176 aboard.
Tehran residents told Reuters police were out in force in the capital on Sunday, as public discontent boiled up following days of denials by the military that it was to blame, even as Canada and the United States said a missile had brought the plane down.
Riot police fired teargas at thousands of protesters in the capital on Saturday, where many had chanted “Death to the dictator,” directing their rage at the Islamic Republic’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Apologize and resign,” Iran’s moderate Etemad daily wrote in a banner headline on Sunday, saying the “people’s demand” was for those responsible for mishandling the plane crisis to quit.
Iranian protest videos capture anger at Islamic regime
The latest upsurge in anger adds to challenges facing the authorities, which launched a bloody crackdown in November to quell protests. The leadership is also struggling to keep the crippled economy afloat under rigorous U.S. sanctions.
The Ukraine International Airlines plane was shot down minutes after taking off from Tehran on Wednesday, when Iranian forces were on alert for U.S. reprisals following tit-for-tat strikes. Many of those on board were Iranians with dual citizenship, while 57 were holders of Canadian passports.
Iran’s president said it was a “disastrous mistake” and apologized. But a top Revolutionary Guards commander added to public fury when he said he had told the authorities on the same day as the crash that an Iranian missile had struck the plane.
The Guards’ top commander, Hossein Salami, said “we are more upset than anyone over the incident,” state media reported.
But others said Iran’s enemies, a term usually used to refer to Washington and its allies, were exploiting the incident.
“Iran’s enemies want to take revenge on the Guards for a military mistake,” said Ali Shirazi, Khamenei’s representative to the Quds Force, an elite Guards unit, state media reported.
After Saturday’s protests, U.S. President Donald Trump said on Twitter: “There can not be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown. The world is watching.”
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.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 11, 2020
Britain said its ambassador in Iran had been briefly detained on Saturday, which Iranian media said was because he was inciting protests. Some lawmakers said the envoy should leave Iran before being ejected, media reported.
Condemning the arrest, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Iran “can continue its march toward pariah status … or take steps to de-escalate tensions and engage in a diplomatic path forwards.”
Protests inside Iran followed a build-up of tension between Iran and the United States, which withdrew from Tehran’s nuclear pact with world powers in 2018 and then toughened up sanctions.
It started with Soleimani
On Jan. 3, a U.S. drone strike in Iraq killed prominent Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, responsible for building up Iran’s network of regional proxy armies in Iraq and beyond. Tehran responded with missile strikes on U.S. targets in Iraq.
No U.S. soldiers were killed, but in the tense hours after that, the Ukrainian Boeing 737 was cleared to take off from Tehran airport and brought down by a missile fired in error.
Rallying to the establishment, Iranian lawmakers praised the elite force’s commanders for courage in admitting the error, according to Fars, a news agency seen as close to the Guards, a parallel military set up to protect the theocratic system.
Iranian officials sought to portray the plane disaster as a second blow to a mourning nation after Soleimani’s death in a U.S. drone strike.
The commander’s funeral had prompted huge public gatherings, which the authorities described as a show of national unity. But the displays of emotion have been swiftly overshadowed and protesters on Saturday tore up pictures of the slain general.
Public fury at Iran’s authorities had grown as questions about the plane crash mounted. Iranians on social media asked why officials were busy fending off criticism from abroad rather than sympathizing with grieving families. Others asked why the plane was allowed to take off at a time of high tension.
(Reuters contributed to this report.)