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Crowds Lash Out After Iran Admits Plane Was Mistakenly Downed


It is really striking, the images we've seen out of Iran in the past seven days - and the way what's happening in those images has changed. Here's what's going on. Last week, you'll remember, people crowded into the streets of Tehran. They were mourning the death of Qassem Soleimani, a military leader killed in a U.S. drone strike. And then, over the weekend, people went into the streets again. But this time, they were protesting against their own government. They're angry because the Iranian military admitted to accidentally shooting down a Ukrainian passenger jet.

NPR's Peter Kenyon joins me now from Istanbul. Hi, Peter.


KING: Tell me about these protests over the weekend. They went further than just Tehran, didn't they?

KENYON: Oh, they did. Pretty much - many cities around the country, protests both Saturday and Sunday, mainly driven by university students. Protests, of course, aren't really a new thing in Iran. Last November, we had lots of people on the streets over a hike in gas prices. But these demonstrations are directly focusing on Iran's leadership, including the supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei - cries of death to the dictator, similar angry chants, signs of anger both at the killing of scores of civilians - including more than 80 Iranians - and at the three days of official denials before the government admitted it was involved.

KING: So how is the regime responding so far? If the protesters are targeting government officials directly, what are they saying?

KENYON: Well, they're moving in with police who have been dispersing anti-regime protests quickly and harshly with tear gas, rubber bullets - according to some accounts, live ammunition; they deny that. But the government's also trying to pin responsibility for the recent events on the United States, trying to pin it to the recent drone strike that killed Iran's top general, Qassem Soleimani.

KING: They're essentially saying the United States started this climate of uncertainty that was, in the end, what forced them - the reason that they shot the jet down. I wonder - is there any chance that senior members of the government are actually going to resign as the protesters are demanding, or is this likely to just fizzle out?

KENYON: Yeah. I don't know if it'll fizzle out, but I would not expect anyone to resign over this, certainly at the highest levels. Some suggest Tehran may step back and move back into a previous mode where proxy groups did the attacks around the region. But we'll just have to see if those predictions play out. Saudi Arabia is already saying it's taking steps to protect its oil facilities.

KING: OK - NPR's Peter Kenyon in Istanbul. Peter, thanks.

KENYON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Peter Kenyon is NPR's international correspondent based in Istanbul, Turkey.