Iran's Ali Khamenei delivers Friday prayer sermon in Tehran

Supreme leader's appearance comes at a tumultuous time after the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger jet.

    Iran's Ali Khamenei delivers Friday prayer sermon in Tehran
    Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has held the country's top office since 1989 and has the final say on all important decisions [File:AFP]

    Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei is delivering a Friday sermon in Tehran for the first time in almost eight years, as the Islamic Republic grapples with the fallout from the targeted killing of its top general in a United States air attack and popular anger after it accidentally downed a Ukrainian passenger jet.

    The last time Khamenei led Friday prayers at Tehran's Mosalla mosque was in February 2012, on the 33rd anniversary of the country's revolution.

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    "The Iranian nation will once again demonstrate their unity and magnificence," Tehran Friday Prayers headquarters said in a statement on Wednesday, as cited by Iranian state media.

    Khamenei has held the country's top office since 1989 and has the final say on all important decisions. The 80-year-old leader openly wept at the funeral of General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a US air attack in Baghdad on January 3, and promised "harsh retaliation".

    On January 8 Iran launched a series of missile attacks on facilities housing US forces in Iraq. At least 11 US troops were wounded in the attacks, according to a statement by US Central Command released on Thursday. The attacks also caused significant material damage.

    As Iran's Revolutionary Guard braced for a US counterattack that never came, it mistakenly shot down a passenger aircraft shortly after it took off from Tehran's international airport, killing all 176 people on board.

    The plane had been travelling to the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv, and was carrying mostly Iranian and Canadian passengers.

    Authorities concealed their role in the tragedy for three days, initially blaming the crash on a technical problem. Their admission of responsibility triggered days of street protests in towns and cities across Iran which security forces dispersed with live ammunition and tear gas.

    'Families want answers' 

    Canada's foreign minister on Thursday promised to push Tehran for answers about the tragedy.

    "Families want answers, the international community wants answers, the world is waiting for answers and we will not rest until we get them," Francois-Philippe Champagne said at a meeting in London.

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    Champagne was speaking after talks with counterparts from countries whose nationals were among the people killed when the plane was hit.

    Later in a joint statement, Canada, Ukraine, Sweden, Afghanistan and Britain issued a five-point plan for cooperation with Iran.

    It called for "full and unhindered access" for foreign officials to and within Iran and "a thorough, independent and transparent international investigation".

    Iran should "assume full responsibility for the downing of flight PS752 and (recognise) its duties towards the families of the victims and other parties - including compensation", the statement said.

    Separately, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi said involved countries should avoid turning the plane crash into a political issue, semi-official ISNA news agency reported. 

    A failed agreement 

    Tensions between Iran and the US have steadily escalated since President Donald Trump withdrew the US from Iran's 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, which had imposed restrictions on its nuclear programme in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions.

    The White House has since reimposed crippling sanctions on Iran, including its vital oil and gas industry, pushing the country's economy deeper into crisis. Sporadic protests erupted last year after the government hiked the price of fuel in a surprise announcement. Rights groups have said hundreds were killed as security forces cracked down on the demonstrations, while Tehran has rejected the death tolls provided by the groups as inaccurate.

    Trump has openly encouraged the protesters - even tweeting in Farsi.

    After Soleimani was killed, Iran announced it would no longer be bound by the limitations in the nuclear agreement.

    European countries who have been trying to salvage the deal responded earlier this week by invoking a dispute mechanism in the deal that could result in even more sanctions.

    However, on Thursday, Rouhani said Iran was "enriching more uranium" than it was before the conclusion of the 2015 nuclear deal.

    Meanwhile, Germany confirmed a Washington Post newspaper report saying that the US had threatened to impose a 25 percent tariff on imports of European cars if EU governments continued to back the nuclear deal.

    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif accused the European parties of having "sold out" the deal to avoid trade reprisals from the US, and said Trump was again behaving like a "high school bully". 

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies