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Trump warns Iran against killing protesters
Published on: Tuesday, January 14, 2020

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump has warned Iran against killing protesters who have risen up over the regime’s downing of a civilian airliner as his defence secretary left the door open to talks with Tehran without preconditions.

Trump’s salvo came as Iran’s Islamic regime faced a challenge from angry street protests, having come to the brink of war with the US after a series of tit-for-tat confrontations.

“To the leaders of Iran—DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS,” Trump tweeted, warning that the world and “more importantly, the USA is watching.”

In an interview with CBS’s “Face the Nation” just before the tweet, US Defence Secretary Mark Esper said Trump was still willing to hold talks with Iran’s leaders.

“We’re willing to sit down and discuss without precondition a new way forward, a series of steps by which Iran becomes a more normal country,” Defense Secretary Mark Esper said on CBS’s “Face the Nation”.

And if something happened to the protesters? Esper replied: “The president has drawn no preconditions other than to say we’re willing to meet with the Iranian government.”

However on Monday, videos online purportedly show Iranian security forces fired both live ammunition and tear gas to disperse demonstrators protesting against the Islamic Republic’s initial denial that it shot down a Ukrainian jetliner.

Videos sent to the New York-based Center for Human Rights in Iran and later verified by The Associated Press show a crowd of demonstrators near Azadi, or Freedom, Square fleeing as a tear gas canister landed among them. People cough and sputter while trying to escape the fumes, with one woman calling out in Farsi: “They fired tear gas at people! Azadi Square. Death to the dictator!”

Another video shows a woman being carried away in the aftermath as a blood trail can be seen on the ground. Those around her cry out that she has been shot by live ammunition in the leg.

“Oh my God, she’s bleeding nonstop!” one person shouts. Another shouts: “Bandage it!”

Photos and video after the incident show pools of blood on the sidewalk. 

Tehran’s police chief, Gen. Hossein Rahimi, later denied his officers opened fire though the semiofficial Fars news agency said police “shot tear gas in some areas.”

Long-standing US-Iran tensions have soared since January 3 when missiles fired from a US drone killed a top Iranian commander, Qasem Soleimani, near Baghdad’s airport.

Iran responded with a barrage of missiles at two US bases in Iraq, inflicting no casualties in what was seen as an attempt to prevent a spiral of escalation.

But hours later, an Iranian Revolutionary Guard unit shot down a Ukrainian passenger jet shortly after takeoff from Tehran.

The death of all 176 people aboard and Iran’s belated admission its forces mistook the plane for a cruise missile has set off angry protests against the regime.

The British ambassador to Iran was briefly arrested at the weekend after attending a memorial service for the victims at Tehran’s Amir Kabir University. 

“I just think you see a very corrupt regime that the Iranian people are finally standing up and trying to hold them accountable,” Esper said.

On another talk show, national security advisor Robert O’Brien said the Iranian regime was “reeling from maximum pressure.”

“They are reeling from their incompetence in this situation. And the people of Iran are just fed up with it,” he said on ABC’s “This Week”.

“Iran is being choked off, and Iran is going to have no other choice but to come to the table.”

Trump later slapped O’Brien down, saying, “Actually, I couldn’t care less if they negotiate. Will be totally up to them.”

Meanwhile, said Esper, the US believes it has disrupted the plots that it says precipitated Soleimani’s killing, and expects no further Iranian retaliation.

Esper and O’Brien defended the intelligence that led the administration to claim Soleimani was plotting imminent attacks on US troops and diplomats in the region.

But other than in the case of the US embassy in Baghdad, Esper would not confirm Trump’s claim that four US embassies in the region were among Soleimani’s targets.

Asked if there was specific evidence in the intelligence to support the claim, Esper said, “I didn’t see one with regard to four embassies.” 

The administration has come under fire from Democrats—and at least two Republican senators—for refusing to share the intelligence with members of Congress. –AFP and AP

 



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