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Iran warns European troops

AP, AFP, Reuters/Tehran
Filed on January 15, 2020 | Last updated on January 15, 2020 at 11.14 pm
Iran, warns, European troops, President Donald Trump
STANDOFF CONTINUES: Iranian students gather for a demonstration over the downing of a Ukrainian airliner at Tehran University. - AFP

Rouhani dismissed a proposal for a new "Trump deal" aimed at resolving a nuclear row, saying it was a "strange" offer.

Iran's president warned on Wednesday that European soldiers in the Mideast "could be in danger" after three nations challenged Tehran over breaking the limits of its nuclear deal. Tehran's top diplomat meanwhile acknowledged that Iranians "were lied to" for days following the Islamic Republic's accidental shootdown of a Ukrainian jetliner that killed 176 people.

President Hassan Rouhani's remarks in a televised cabinet meeting represent the first direct threat he's made to Europe as tensions remain high between Tehran and Washington over President Donald Trump withdrawing the US from the deal in May 2018.

Rouhani dismissed a proposal for a new "Trump deal" aimed at resolving a nuclear row, saying it was a "strange" offer.

"Today, the American soldier is in danger, tomorrow the European soldier could be in danger," Rouhani said. "We want you to leave this region but not with war. We want you to go wisely. It is to your own benefit."

Rouhani did not elaborate.

Rouhani separately criticised Europe's "baseless" words regarding the nuclear deal. Iran had been holding out for Europe to offer a means by which Tehran could sell its oil abroad despite US sanctions. However, a hoped-for trading mechanism for other goods hasn't taken hold and a French-pitched line of credit also hasn't materialised.

Iranians called on social media on Wednesday for fresh demonstrations a week after the shooting down of a passenger plane, seeking to turn the aftermath of the crash into a sustained campaign against Iran's leadership.

Protesters, with students at the forefront, have staged daily rallies in Tehran and other cities since Saturday, when after days of denials the authorities admitted bringing down a Ukrainian plane last week, killing all 176 aboard.

"We're coming to the streets," one posting circulating on social media said on Wednesday, urging people to join nationwide demonstrations against a "thieving and corrupt government".

It remains to be seen whether the protests will lead to sustained violence. After several days of unrest, when images posted to the internet showed demonstrators being beaten by the police and shocked with electric batons, protests on Tuesday appear to have been quieter. Two months ago, authorities killed hundreds of demonstrators to put down protests sparked by fuel price hikes.

Thousands of protesters have been shown in videos gathering in the past four days in cities across Iran. Many have been outside universities. Tehran's central Azadi Square has also been a focus. But the scale of protests and unrest is difficult to determine due to restrictions on independent reporting.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said a person who had posted a video online last week of a missile striking the plane has been taken into custody by the Revolutionary Guards, the elite force that said one of its operators shot down the plane.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif's admission, which came at a summit in New Delhi on Wednesday, represents the first time an Iranian official referred to earlier claims from Tehran that a technical malfunction downed the Ukraine International Airlines flight as a lie. The shootdown - and subsequent days of denials that a missile had downed it - sparked days of angry protests in the country.

Zarif said that the deal was still alive: "No, it's not dead. It's not dead," Zarif said on the sidelines of a conference in New Delhi.

Later Wednesday, Iranian state media said the British ambassador to Iran, Robert Macaire, had left the country. Macaire left after being given what the state-run Irna news agency described as "prior notice," without elaborating.

Britain's Foreign Office insisted Macaire's trip to London was "routine, business as usual" and was planned before his arrest in Tehran. It said he planned return to Iran.

Macaire had been held after attending a candlelight vigil on Saturday in Tehran over Iran shooting down the Ukrainian jetliner. The vigil quickly turned into an anti-government protests and Macaire left shortly after, only to be arrested by police.

In Ukraine, forensic analysts expect to start decoding next week the flight data recorders recovered from the downed plane. The recorders, known as black boxes, have yet to be transported to Ukraine.

Ukraine asked Iran to hand over the black box flight recorders of a Ukrainian passenger plane that crashed after being hit by an Iranian missile, prosecutors said on Wednesday.

The Office of the General Prosecutor said it would take "all measures" to properly decode the black boxes and "preserve evidence in the investigation of the accident".

Two Iranian missiles struck down a Ukrainian passenger jet, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, posting verified security camera footage showing double projectiles gliding through the sky before hitting their target.

The missiles were fired 30 seconds apart and help explain a mystery as to why the plane's transponder was not working - it was disabled by the first strike, before being hit by a second, the Times said.


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