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Top Iran Guard briefs parliament over downed Ukrainian jet


IRAN'S top Guards commander briefed the Iranian parliament or Majles on Sunday, a day after the armed forces said a Ukrainian airliner was shot down in error in an admission that sparked an angry demonstration.

His closed-session testimony came after the temporary arrest on Saturday of Britain's ambassador to Teheran, Rob Macaire, shortly after he left a vigil for the air disaster victims that turned into a protest.

On the day after the rally at Teheran's Amir Kabir University, tensions appeared to be mounting again on the streets of the capital, with a heavy police presence notably around the iconic Azadi Square south of the centre.

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Riot police armed with water cannon and batons were seen at Amir Kabir, Sharif and Teheran universities as well as Enqelab Square. Around 50 Basij militiamen brandishing paintball guns, potentially to mark protesters to authorities, were also seen near Amir Kabir.

The military acknowledged on Saturday that the Ukraine International Airlines plane was mistakenly shot down on Wednesday, killing all 176 people aboard, after denying for days Western claims it was downed by a missile.

The majority of those on the Boeing 737, which slammed into a field shortly after take-off from Teheran, were Iranians and Canadians, and many were students.

World leaders welcomed Iran's admission, but Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and others have also called for a full and transparent investigation.

The Kiev-bound plane was shot down at a time when Iran's armed forces were on a heightened state of alert after launching a volley of missiles at US troops stationed in Iraqi military bases.

Iran had vowed to exact "severe revenge" for the Jan 3 US drone strike that killed Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Revolutionary Guards' foreign operations arm.

The Guards' top commander, Major-General Hossein Salami, briefed parliament about the general's killing, Iran's retaliation and the downing of the airliner, semi-official news agency ISNA said.

At the end of the session, speaker Ali Larijani asked the Majles' security and foreign policy commission to examine the air disaster and how to prevent such incidents from occurring again, ISNA said.

On Saturday, President Hassan Rouhani said a military probe into the tragedy had found "missiles fired due to human error" brought down the Boeing 737. The Guards' aerospace commander General Amirali Hajizadeh accepted full responsibility.

In the evening, a memorial at Teheran's Amir Kabir University in honour of those killed turned into a demonstration that, AFP correspondents said, was attended by hundreds of students.

US President Donald Trump warned Iran against cracking down. "There can not be another massacre of peaceful protesters, nor an internet shutdown. The world is watching," he tweeted.

"We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage," Mr Trump said in a comment directed at protesters.

Newspapers called for resignations and sackings over the handling of the air disaster.

Sazandegi, a moderate conservative publication, also apologised to its readers for having trusted official sources on the matter.

"Apologise, resign," said the main headline of the reformist Etemad daily.

"Unforgivable," said government newspaper Iran, which published all the names of those who died in the air disaster on the image of black plane tail.

Kayhan, a hardline daily, led on the supreme leader's "strict orders" to follow up on the "painful incident of the plane crash".

As public anger grew, state television aired interviews with people who it said "have not forgotten everything the Guards have done for the country".

Britain's ambassador to Teheran meanwhile took to Twitter to deny he had attended the demonstration before being arrested.

"Can confirm I wasn't taking part in any demonstrations! Went to an event advertised as a vigil for victims of #PS752 tragedy," Mr Macaire said, adding he had been detained half an hour after leaving the area.

"Normal to want to pay respects - some of victims were British. I left after five mins, when some started chanting," he tweeted.

The arrest triggered diplomatic protests, with London calling it a violation of international law and EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell added his voice to the chorus of condemnation.

Iran's Mehr news agency said Mr Macaire was arrested for his alleged "involvement in provoking suspicious acts" at the gathering in front of the university. AFP