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Javad Zarif: Iranian authorities lied at first over downed Ukraine plaine

The incident occurred during a week of heightened military tensions with the United States.

Iran’s belated admission that it had mistakenly targeted the aircraft set off student-led demonstrations and rare internal criticism of Iran’s clerical leadership. Demands for accountability have come from protesters as well President Hassan Rouhani and his foreign minister, both relative political moderates whose statements over the last few days have highlighted the rivalries between Iran’ s pro-reform and conservative camps.

“We’ve had people in the streets of Tehran demonstrating against the fact that they were lied to for a couple of days,” Zarif said at the Raisina Dialogue, an annual foreign policy conference in New Delhi.

“Our military forces were brave enough to claim responsibility early on. But people are angry even with those two days. That is the expectation that people have with the government — that the government should have disclosed the information,” he said.

“Why did it happen? Because there was a crisis,” he added. And in a crisis, “people make mistakes, unforgivable mistakes.” He said the loss of life in the incident “was because of tensions created by the United States.”

His comments came a day after Iran’s judiciary said it had arrested “some individuals” in connection with the downing of the Ukrainian airliner, without providing more detail. President Hassan Rouhani also called Tuesday for the creation of a special court to hear the case because of international scrutiny as well as Iranian demands for justice.

The shoot-down killed 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.

Iran’s state media reported Wednesday that Britain’s ambassador to Tehran, Robert Macaire, has left the country for undisclosed reasons. Macaire was briefly detained on Saturday in Tehran after attending what had been planned as a “vigil” for the victims aboard the Boeing 737-800.

He was “summoned to the Iranian Foreign Ministry on Sunday for ‘unconventional behavior’ inconsistent with his diplomatic status and being present in an ‘illegal gathering,’” the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported, adding that he departed Iran on Tuesday.

A British Foreign Office spokesman said Wednesday that Macaire was “returning to the UK today on a long-planned visit. He will have a number of meetings while in the UK and this is very much business as usual. He will be returning to Iran in the coming days.”

Fahim reported from Istanbul. Niha Masih in New Delhi, Karla Adam in London and Erin Cunningham in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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