Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei is set to deliver a Friday prayers sermon when he is expected to throw his support behind the elite Revolutionary Guards after their belated admission that they had downed an airliner in error sparked days of rage on the streets.
Making the main weekly sermon in Tehran for the first time since 2012, with Iran and its clerical rulers under pressure at home and abroad, Khamenei is also expected to blame “enemies”, usually a jibe directed at Washington, for causing the public fury, a source familiar with decision-making in Iran told Reuters.
U.S. President Donald Trump, who pulled Washington out of a nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and started the latest escalation that briefly resulted in open conflict this month, had tweeted support for protesters in both English and Farsi.
State television showed queues of buses that were taking people to attend the ceremony in central Tehran. The prayers usually take place around midday on Friday in Iran.
The Ukrainian passenger plane was shot down on Jan. 8 in the tense hours after Iran launched missiles at U.S. targets in Iraq in response to a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3 that killed a powerful Iranian general, who was close to Khamenei.
After days of denying a role in the plane crash, the Guards, a parallel military force answering directly to Khamenei that acts as guardian of the clerical system, finally admitted one of its air defence operators mistakenly shot down Ukraine Airlines International flight 752.
Vigils for the 176 victims swiftly turned into protests against Iran’s rulers. “Death to Khamenei” was chanted at protests and also spray painted on walls of Tehran and other cities. Such public criticism can result in a jail term in Iran.