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Iran Remembers Downed Airliner

July 4, 1998

BANDAR ABBAS, Iran (AP) _ Ten years after the United states shot down an Iranian airliner, a ship decorated with dozens of banners reading ``Death to America″ and ``We Condemn U.S. State Terrorism″ carried Iranian officials and relatives of the victims to the former crash site.

More than 200 people made the one-hour trip Friday from the southern port city of Bandar Abbas to the spot where the airliner fell 12 miles from the port.

The USS Vincennes shot down the Airbus A-300 on July 3, 1988, shortly after it took off from Bandar Abbas for Dubai in the United Arab Emirates. Washington said the Vincennes mistook the airliner for a hostile Iranian fighter jet.

``While the United States wants to remove the walls of mistrust, it would be positive and appropriate if they officially apologized to the families of the victims and the people and government of Iran,″ said Mehdi Chamran, an army official in charge of cultural affairs.

Farideh Ameri, the teen-age daughter of one of the victims, read a poem in memory of her father.

``My dear father, I still remember the day we saw you off when you left home. But you didn’t return. My heart is broken, and my eyes still search for you to come back,″ Ameri said.

Two helicopters dropped thousands of red, orange and white flowers into the sea after the ship arrived at the site of the crash.

The relatives of the victims then tossed flowers into the water while a navy band played the Iranian national anthem and the song ``Death to America.″

Officials gave children of the victims T-shirts that featured a picture of the Statue of Liberty using her torch to down an airplane. ``For What Reason Were They Kild?″ was printed underneath the picture in English.

As the ship headed back to shore after the two-hour ceremony, the crowd shouted ``Death to America.″

In 1996, the United States agreed to pay $131.8 million to families of the Iranians killed on the plane. An Iranian official in charge of reparation payments said Wednesday that payments to the families of the victims were nearly completed.

The United States broke off relations with Iran after militants stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran following the 1979 Islamic Revolution and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days.

Iranian President Mohammad Khatami has softened his country’s attitude toward the United States since he took office in August.

He has promoted sporting and cultural exchanges with the United States but has stopped short of calling for diplomatic ties.

The United States accuses Iran of sponsoring terrorism, but American officials have said lately that they are encouraged by Khatami’s overtures.

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