Bandar Abbas (Iran): Iranians mourning a 23-year-old airline tragedy, tossed flowers in the Gulf on Monday at the site where an Iranian passenger plane was downed by a US warship, killing all 290 aboard in an incident Washington describes as a mistake but many in Iran consider a deliberate attack.

More than 80 relatives of those killed in the July 3, 1988 downing of the Iran Air A300 dropped red, white and pink flowers into the sea. More flowers cascaded down from helicopters.

The USS Vincennes shot down the Dubai-bound airliner shortly after it took off from Bandar Abbas in southern Iran.

Washington said the Vincennes mistook the airliner for a hostile Iranian fighter jet. Iran maintains that it was an ordered attack, a month before the end of the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war.

"The crime by the United States is never forgivable. The stain will remain on the US forever," said Hesameddin Ansari, 34, who lost his father in the crash.

Abbas Barati, a resident of Bandar Abbas who was 16 years old when the plane went down, said the city was overwhelmed with the bodies pulled from the sea.

"There was not enough space in the forensic center to keep bodies of victims," he said. "Many of them were kept in any available cold place."

The anniversary has become an annual outpouring of anger at America and has drawn wider coverage in state media in recent years as the standoff deepens over Iran's nuclear program. On Monday, Iranian television repeatedly showed 1988 footage of the remains of the victims' bodies.

Iranian divers put a model of the plane in the nearby waters. In Tehran, a 50-foot (15-meter) picture of the Airbus was set in a major junction.

Tehran has called for the commander of USS Vincennes at the time, William C Rogers III, to be brought to trial. In 1990, the then-President George H W Bush awarded Rogers the Legion of Merit for his service as a commanding officer, without mentioning the Airbus downing.

In 1999, Iran said it had received USD 130 million from a 1996 settlement that included compensation for families of the victims.