News World Australian warship to guard Middle East oil, as Iran-US crisis deepens
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Australian warship to guard Middle East oil, as Iran-US crisis deepens

HMAS Toowoomba will arrive in the Persian Gulf within a fortnight. Photo: Royal Australian Navy/ABC
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An Australian warship carrying nearly 200 soldiers will on Monday set sail for a narrow shipping route in the Gulf region that is at the centre of rising tensions between Iran and the US.

The ABC reports a Royal Australian Navy ship called HMAS Toowoomba will depart for the Strait of Hormuz, one of the world’s most volatile shipping channels.

The six-month deployment is part of a maritime security mission to protect oil supplies leaving the narrow shipping route, and comes amid heightened tensions between the US and Iran.

If security in the environment deteriorates, the 190 sailors will be diverted elsewhere in the Middle East.

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said Australia’s navy which is expected to arrive at the Strait of Hormuz in a fortnight, is tasked with safeguarding freedom of navigation in the region.

“This highly capable vessel will focus on promoting maritime security, stability and prosperity in the Middle East by supporting counter terrorism, preventing piracy, and freedom of navigation,” she told the ABC.

The news of the deployment comes after protests erupted across Iran for a second day, piling pressure on the leadership after the military admitted it mistakenly shot down a Ukrainian airliner.

Protesters chant slogans and hold up posters of Gen. Qassem Soleimani while burning representations of British and Israeli flags. Photo: Getty

All 176 passengers and crew were killed moments after taking off from an airport in the capital Tehran last week and Iran initially denied involvement.

“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.

Scores of demonstrators were shown outside another university in the capital and at gatherings in other cities on Sunday.

Some state-affiliated media also carried reports of university protests, following days of denials by the military, issued even as Canada and the US said a missile was responsible.

Iran’s president eventually conceded it was a “disastrous mistake” and apologised.

Riot police fired tear gas at thousands of protesters in the capital on Saturday, where many had chanted “death to the dictator”, directing their anger at Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Iranian security forces stand guard in front of the British embassy in the capital Tehran during demonstrations. Photo: Getty

“Apologise 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.

US President Donald Trump warned Iranian authorities not to harm demonstrators.

“To the leaders of Iran – DO NOT KILL YOUR PROTESTERS. Thousands have already been killed or imprisoned by you, and the World is watching,” he posted on Twitter.

Before Iran’s admission, Ukraine investigators were undertaking an examination of the plane’s remains and found enough evidence pointing to the rogue nation.

Ukraine Security Chief Oleksiy Danilov told the BBC the discovery of missile damage and a part of a missile gave Iran no choice but to come clean.

“I think Iran understood they had no choice. All photos and video that we needed, we already had,” said Mr Danilov.

“And even if they had tried to create obstacles, we already had enough to show the international community what really happened there.

Mr Danoliv shared photos from the scene with the BBC.

“This photo shows the part where the missile hit,” said Mr Danoliv, referring to an image of the plane’s mangled underside.

“It hit the cockpit from underneath. We think this is proof and it explains why we didn’t hear anything from the pilots.

“They died immediately after the first hit.

Images released by the Ukrainian Presidential Press Office show the underside of the downed Boeing 737-800. Photo: Ukraine Presidential Press Office

“These are holes made by explosive elements,” he said, indicating photos of small holes in the shell of the aircraft, caused by the anti-aircraft missile.

Boeing wreckage: Ukrainian officials suspect these holes were caused by a missile. Photo: ABC

Mr Danoliv said another image showed what the Ukrainians believed was part of the missile.

A still shows what Ukrainian investigators believe is part of the missile that downed flight PS752. Photo: Supplied BBC

The evidence was gathered before the Iranians made full admissions of responsibility, blaming human error for the “disastrous mistake” of shooting down a planeload of innocent people – most of whom were Iranians.

“As soon as Iranians gave us access to these items, our specialists kept us updated every hour as to what was happening,” said Mr Danilov.

“And very quickly as we gathered information, we understood what had happened.

“We couldn’t make it public straight away; we needed to be able to work there.

“Iran is a very difficult country as you know. And we were worried they would send our specialists back.”

-with AAP