Defiant Iran plays down protests after plane tragedy
The air disaster triggered scattered protests in Tehran and other cities.
Iran's supreme leader said on Friday that demonstrations at home over the accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner were unrepresentative of the Iranian people and accused the country's "enemies" of exploiting it for propaganda purposes.
Leading the Friday prayers in Tehran for the first time since 2012, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said the January 8 downing was a "bitter" tragedy but should not be allowed to overshadow the "sacrifice" of one of Iran's most storied commanders, assassinated in a US drone strike in Baghdad.
His sermon came after a traumatic month for Iran in which the country had appeared on the brink of war with the United States before mistakenly shooting down the Ukrainian jet with the loss of all 176 people on board.
"The plane crash was a bitter accident, it burned through our heart," Khamenei said.
Khamenei said Iran's enemies had seized on the plane tragedy in a bid to undermine the Islamic republic. "Our enemies were as happy about the plane crash as we were sad," he said.
The air disaster triggered scattered protests in Tehran and other cities, but they appeared smaller than nationwide demonstrations in November in which Amnesty International said at least 300 people died.
On Friday, anti-riot police staged a massive deployment in Tehran, an AFP correspondent said.
During the sermon, Khamenei also slammed the governments of Britain, France and Germany, which on Tuesday decided to trigger a dispute mechanism in the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, following US threats to impose tariffs on European cars.
Khamenei threatened that the Revolutionary Guards can take their fight beyond Iran's borders, The Quds Force "protects oppressed nations across the region," Khamenei said. "They are fighters without borders."
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