An Iranian air defense battery shot down the plane last week, killing all 176 people on board during a hair-trigger standoff with the United States after a U.S. drone strike killed Iran’s powerful Quds Force commander, Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani, earlier this month.
Tehran retaliated last Wednesday, firing more than a dozen ballistic missiles at facilities in Iraq hosting U.S. troops.
In the hours after those attacks, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps shot down Ukraine International Airlines Flight 752 with a surface-to-air missile. It later blamed the strike on “human error.” Listed among the dead were 82 Iranians, 57 Canadians and 11 Ukrainians, including the crew. Most, if not all, of the Canadians were reported to be of Iranian origin or dual nationals.
Iranian officials initially denied reports that the plane was brought down, but they admitted Saturday that the Revolutionary Guard, which maintains military bases in the area of the crash, shot it down by mistake.
Over the next few days, protests flared on the streets of Tehran and other cities, led by students criticizing the missile strike and the initial denials. They chanted rare denunciations of Iran’s leadership, putting the government on the defensive.
The protests continued Tuesday. Videos posted on social media showed dozens of students gathered at the University of Tehran.
“Bisharaf! Bisharaf!” they chanted in Farsi, using a term that translates as “dishonorable,” as riot police stood vigil outside the campus. “Our hands are empty. Put away your baton!”
In a speech Tuesday, President Hassan Rouhani addressed the crash at length, calling for a special court “with a high-ranking judge and dozens of experts” to investigate. “This is not a normal case, and the whole world will follow the case in our court,” he said, according to a transcript of his remarks posted on his official website.
“Our people know that this accident was the result of an error and mistake, but who was involved and what circumstances led to the accident?” he said. His remarks appeared to cast blame partly on the United States, which he said had “inflamed the atmosphere and made the situation abnormal, threatened and took our loved ones from us.”
“All of this is true, but it does not mean that we should not address all the root causes of the incident,” he added. “It is not just the one who pressed the button, but rather there are others, and I want this matter to be explained to people honestly.”
Rouhani also appeared to fault military leaders for waiting days to announce that the plane had been shot down, and he urged the authorities “to explain to the public the whole process.”
Rouhani has no control over the judiciary or the military, both of which are under the direct supervision of Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“It is very important for our people that whoever, at any level, was to blame should be introduced and whoever is to be punished, should be punished,” Rouhani said. “The most important thing is that people have to be sure that such incidents will not happen again.”
Erin Cunningham contributed to this report.