Canadian officials arrive in Iran amid PS752 investigation — with more on the way

Iran has issued eight more visas to a team of Canadian officials following a fatal plane crash near Tehran and most members of the group should be in Tehran on Monday, Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne said on Sunday.

Transportation Safety Board says it will be sending 2nd team of investigators soon

People gather for a candlelight vigil to remember the victims of the Ukrainian plane crash, at the gate of Amirkabir University in Tehran on Saturday. (Ebrahim Noroozi/The Associated Press)

Iran has issued eight more visas to a team of Canadian officials following a fatal plane crash near Tehran and most members of the group should be in Tehran on Monday, Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne said on Sunday.

Champagne said on Twitter that three officials from the rapid deployment team had flown to Iran on Saturday to set up a base of operations and a further eight would travel on Monday. 

"We expect the [team] to be fully in place to do their important work by Jan. 14," Champagne said.

Canada has been demanding a significant role in the investigation into the incident that killed 176 passengers, most of them Iranians and Iranian-Canadians.

After initially blaming a technical failure, Iranian authorities finally admitted on Saturday that the country's military accidentally struck the Boeing 737-800, causing it to crash in the countryside southwest of the Iranian capital.

The downing happened as Tehran was bracing for U.S. airstrikes and only hours after Iran had fired missiles at two air bases housing U.S. and Canadian forces in Iraq. Tension rose on Jan. 3 after a U.S. drone strike in Iraq killed prominent Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani, responsible for building up Iran's network of regional proxy armies in Iraq and beyond.

Canada says it wants to take part in the crash investigation and help the families of the Canadians who died. The team includes consular officials and two members of Transportation Safety Board (TSB).

The TSB said later it would deploy a second team of investigators who specialize in aircraft recorder download and analysis "once we confirm where and when this activity will take place." It did not give more details.

Canada does not have diplomatic relations with Iran.

Protests at 2 universities

Protests erupted across Iran for a second day on Sunday, piling pressure on the leadership after the military's admission.

"They are lying that our enemy is America, our enemy is right here," a group of protesters outside a university in Tehran chanted, according to video clips posted on Twitter. Posts showed other demonstrators outside a second university and a group of protesters marching to Tehran's Azadi (Freedom) Square. The videos also showed protests in other cities.

Riot police fired teargas at thousands of protesters in the capital on Saturday, where many had chanted "Death to the dictator," directing their anger at the Islamic Republic's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"Apologize and resign," Iran's moderate Etemad daily wrote in a banner headline on Sunday, saying the "people's demand" was for those responsible for mishandling the plane crisis to quit.

The latest upsurge in anger adds to challenges facing the authorities, which launched a bloody crackdown in November to quell protests. The leadership is also struggling to keep the crippled economy afloat under stringent U.S. sanctions.

U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted: "To the leaders of Iran - DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching."

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the downing was a "disastrous mistake" and apologized. But a top Revolutionary Guard commander added to public fury when he said he had told the authorities on the same day as the crash that an Iranian missile had struck the plane.

Iranians students demonstrate following a tribute for the victims of Ukraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 in front of the Amirkabir University in the capital Tehran on Saturday. (Atta Kenare/AFP via Getty Images)

The Guard's top commander, Hossein Salami, said "we are more upset than anyone over the incident," state media reported. Another commander said Iran did not intend to conceal the cause.

But others said Iran's enemies, a term usually used to refer to Washington and its allies, were exploiting the incident.

"Iran's enemies want to take revenge on the Guards for a military mistake," said Ali Shirazi, Khamenei's representative to the Quds Force, an elite Guards unit, state media reported.

A woman shouts slogans as she gathers with people in Tehran on Saturday to show sympathy to the victims of the plane downing. (Nazanin Tabatabaee/West Asia News Agency via Reuters)

Britain said its ambassador in Iran was briefly detained on Saturday, which Iranian media said was because he was inciting protests. The envoy said he attended a vigil for plane victims. Iran summoned him on Sunday, while state-affiliated media said members of the hardline Basij militia gathered outside the mission with signs demanding the "treacherous embassy" be shut.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemned the arrest and said Iran "can continue its march toward pariah status ... or take steps to de-escalate tensions" with diplomacy.

'Crime against humanity'

"It is not a human error. This is a crime against humanity," the son of the toppled shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, wrote on Twitter. "Khamenei and his regime should go."

In the November protests sparked by economic woes in Iran, demonstrators had chanted slogans supporting him. His father died in exile in 1980.

Rallying to the establishment, Iranian lawmakers praised the elite force's commanders for courage in admitting the error, according to Fars, a news agency seen as close to the Guards, a parallel military set up to protect the theocratic system.

Iranian officials sought to portray the plane disaster as a second blow to a mourning nation after Soleimani's death in a U.S. drone strike.

The commander's funeral had prompted huge public gatherings, which the authorities described as a show of national unity. But the displays of emotion have been swiftly overshadowed as protesters on Saturday tore up pictures of the slain general.

With files from CBC News