President Donald Trump tweeted in both English and Farsi on Saturday, expressing his administration’s support for the Iranian protesters who took to the streets after Tehran admitted that it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian passenger plane, killing all 176 people aboard. “To the brave, long-suffering people of Iran: I’ve stood with you since the beginning of my Presidency, and my Administration will continue to stand with you. We are following your protests closely, and are inspired by your courage,” Trump tweeted. The president went on to call on Tehran to “allow human rights groups to monitor and report facts from the ground.” That second tweet also went out in both Farsi and English.
The president sent his tweets after a day of protests on the streets of Tehran and other cities across the country as it became clear that the tragedy was quickly descending to a full-blown political crisis for the Iranian government. Tehran is now being forced to face “possibly the biggest crisis since the 1979 Islamic revolution,” notes the Guardian. The protesters chanted strong denunciations of Iranian leaders, including Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “Death to the dictator,” some of the protesters shouted. Many Iranians on the plane were students and protesters gathered in campuses across Iran. At one vigil, crowds chanted “down, down, Khamenei.” Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials gave citizens even more reason to distrust the government, suggesting that Tehran would never have admitted responsibility if investigators had not found evidence of a missile strike.
Even as it admitted its guilt, Iran kept trying to bend the truth. At first, military officials had said the plane took an unexpected turn toward a military base. But the Ukrainians disputed that and an Iranian commander acknowledged it was not accurate. “The plane was flying in its normal direction without any error and everybody was doing their job correctly,” said Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh. “If there was a mistake, it was made by one of our members.”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also took to Twitter Saturday to express support for the protests. “The voice of the Iranian people is clear,” Pompeo wrote. “They are fed up with the regime’s lies, corruption, ineptitude and brutality.” The tweets from the Trump administration reflected how the downing of the Ukrainian jet had suddenly shifted the focus away from the killing of Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Photos posted on social media showed some torn photos of Soleimani, reports the New York Times. That illustrates how the national unity that was evident after Soleimani’s killing appears to have vanished. “It is a very sensitive time for the establishment. They face a serious credibility problem. Not only did they conceal the truth, they also mismanaged the situation,” a senior former official told Reuters.