NICOSIA: Some Iranians reacted angrily Friday to a speech by the country’s supreme leader, which they said sought to downplay days of protests after a tension-filled month in the Islamic republic.
“He didn’t even try to calm the people and totally ignored the protesters,” said one activist in Iran.
Like other Iranians contacted by AFP from outside the country, she asked to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions.
Protests erupted after the Iranian government admitted to having accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jet on Jan 8, killing all 176 people on board.
Leading the main weekly prayers in Tehran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called the downing a “bitter” tragedy.
But he said it should not overshadow the “sacrifice” of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Iraq on Jan 3.
“He openly declared that Qasem Soleimani was more important than the passengers of the Ukrainian plane,” the activist said.
To avenge Soleimani’s death, last week Iran launched a barrage of missiles on an Iraqi base housing US troops. Hours later, it downed the Boeing 737.
Another Iranian responded to the speech via the Telegram messenger app, saying Khamenei “said bluntly… the dead, whether on the ground or in the sky, are not important to me”.
Friday’s speech came after a traumatic month in which Iran appeared to be tipping towards war with arch-foe the United States in the wake of Soleimani’s killing.
Khamenei last led Friday prayers at Tehran’s Mosalla mosque on the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic revolution in February 2012, at another time of crisis over the Iran nuclear issue.
On Friday, Khamenei insisted that demonstrations over the downing of the jet were not representative of the Iranian people.
“When he says these people are not one of us, it deepens divisions among people and widens the distance between the people and the government,” a 24-year-old artist in Tehran told AFP.
“And it makes someone like myself, who is not close to the regime, seek change even more aggressively,” he added.
One Iranian Twitter user posted that “ignoring the protesters and reducing them to a few hundred compared to Qasem Soleimani’s funeral is the perspective of the regime”.
Hundreds of thousands of people had filled the streets of several cities in Iran to mourn Soleimani in the days after his death.
“There was nothing new, just slogans, slogans and slogans. He didn’t even observe a minute of silence for the victims of the plane crash,” a 35-year-old woman told AFP.