Newspapers in Iran have paid tribute to those killed in the downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane, while heaping pressure on the country’s leadership amid growing public anger after the military acknowledged it had accidentally shot down the aircraft.
Ukraine International Airlines flight 752, en route to Ukraine’s capital of Kyiv, crashed minutes after takeoff from the Imam Khomeini International Airport in Tehran on Wednesday, killing all 176 people on board.
The crash happened hours after Iran fired a barrage of missiles against US targets in Iraq in retaliation for the US assassination of top Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on January 3.
After days of vigorous denials, Iran on Saturday admitted that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) mistakenly shot down the aircraft and apologised for the “disastrous” human error.
Officials in Tehran pledged to bring those who made the mistake to justice but a top IRGC commander added to public anger about the delayed admission when he said on Saturday he had told the authorities a missile hit the plane the day it crashed.
The news triggered angry protests in Tehran, with demonstrators demanding the resignation of senior officials – including Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei – and prosecution of those responsible for downing the plane and allegedly covering up the accidental action.
Iranians on social media, meanwhile, asked why officials were busy fending off criticism from abroad rather than sympathising with grieving families. Others asked why the plane was allowed to take off at a time of high tension.
On Sunday, many newspapers ran black front pages to mark the loss of 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians – including many Iranians with dual citizenship – and 11 Ukrainians.
The official Iranian daily, Iran, published the names of the victims shaped to form the tail of an aeroplane.
"Iran" the official daily newspaper of Iranian government dedicates its Sunday's cover page to the victims of the #ukraineplanecrash by writing the name of all the victims in a typographic representing the tail of the plane. The headline reads "Unforgivable"#Iran #boeing #media pic.twitter.com/87gij92ici
— MAYSAM BIZÆR میثم بیزر (@m_bizar) January 11, 2020
Another newspaper, Hamshahri, run by Tehran municipalities, published “Ashamed” as a headline and offered condolences.
Meanwhile, the front-page banner of Arman-e Meli, a reformist newspaper, read: “Unbelievable”.
Another moderate daily, Jomhuri-ye Eslami, or Islamic Republic, wrote in an editorial: “Those who delayed publishing the reason behind the plane crash and damaged people’s trust in the establishment should be dismissed or should resign.”
“Apologise, resign,” said the main headline of the reformist Etemad daily, adding that the “people’s demand” was for those responsible for mishandling the plane crisis to quit.
Kayhan, a hardline daily, led on Khamenei’s “strict orders” to follow up on the “painful incident of the plane crash”.
The front page of Javan, which is close to the IRGC published: “Deep apology for painful mistake”.
Criticism of the authorities in Iran is not unusual, but it tends to stay within narrow boundaries.
“There is definite anger, shock in the country after it was revealed that it was, in fact, Iran that shot down the Ukrainian airliner, after days of denying it,” Al Jazeera’s Assed Baig, reporting from Tehran, said.
Iran’s leadership faced mass protests in November following a surprise government decision to ration petrol and raise prices to fund cash benefits for the country’s poorest citizens.
Iran has been in the grip of a severe economic crisis since President Donald Trump’s decision in 2018 to withdraw the US from a nuclear deal signed between Iran and world powers in 2015 and to reimpose punishing sanctions.