Iran’s top diplomat has acknowledged that Iranians “were lied to” for days after the Islamic Republic accidentally shot down a Ukrainian jetliner, killing 176 people.

The comments by Mohammad Javad Zarif in New Delhi represent the first time an Iranian official referred to the earlier story that a technical malfunction downed the Ukraine International Airlines flight as a lie.

The incident has sparked days of angry protests in the country.

“In the last few nights, we’ve had people in the streets of Tehran demonstrating against the fact that they were lied to for a couple of days,” Mr Zarif said.

People gather for a vigil to remember the victims of the Ukraine plane crash

Zarif went on to praise Iran’s military for being “brave enough to claim responsibility early on”.

However, he said that he and President Hassan Rouhani only learned that a missile had downed the flight on Friday, raising new questions over how much power Iran’s civilian government has in its Shiite theocracy.

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which shot down the aircraft, knew immediately afterwards its missile downed the airline.

The Guard is answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who is expected to preside over Friday prayers in Iran for the first time in years amid anger about the crash.

Meanwhile, the country’s president warned that European soldiers in the Middle East “could be in danger” after three nations challenged Tehran over breaking limits of its nuclear deal.

President Rouhani’s remarks in a televised cabinet meeting represent the first direct threat he has made to Europe as tensions remain high between Tehran and Washington over President Donald Trump withdrawing the US from the deal in May 2018.

Mr Rouhani issued his threat in a wide-ranging speech that criticised Britain, France and Germany for starting the so-called “dispute process” of the 2015 nuclear deal.

“Today, the American soldier is in danger, tomorrow the European soldier could be in danger,” Mr Rouhani said.

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