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Iran begins funeral events for President Raisi

The funeral procession in Tabriz, the closest large city to the site of the crash, was the first in a series of official events to bid farewell to the president, a hard-line cleric who came of age during the country's Islamic Revolution and oversaw a deadly crackdown on protesters as the head of the judiciary in 2019 and as president in 2022.
Last Updated : 21 May 2024, 16:15 IST
Last Updated : 21 May 2024, 16:15 IST

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Funeral events for Iran's president and foreign minister were underway in Iran on Tuesday as investigators looked into the helicopter crash that killed them and the country grappled with the shock of losing two of its most prominent leaders at a volatile moment.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has announced five days of mourning for President Ebrahim Raisi, 63, and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, 60, who died when their helicopter plunged into a mountainous area near the Iranian city of Jolfa on Sunday.

The state news media said the crash had resulted from a "technical failure." Iran's Armed Forces said it had begun an investigation and sent a team to the site.

Videos posted by Iranian news agencies showed crowds lining the street behind barriers Tuesday morning under a gray sky in the northwestern city of Tabriz, awaiting a procession carrying the flag-draped coffins of Raisi, Amirabdollahian and the six others killed in the crash.

Some people held photographs of Raisi; the semiofficial Tasnim news agency reported that the country's interior minister and acting president had been spotted in the crowd.

The funeral procession in Tabriz, the closest large city to the site of the crash, was the first in a series of official events to bid farewell to the president, a hard-line cleric who came of age during the country's Islamic Revolution and oversaw a deadly crackdown on protesters as the head of the judiciary in 2019 and as president in 2022. He had been widely viewed as a potential successor to Khamenei, 85.

As a truck bearing the bodies of Raisi and the others wound its way through Tabriz, mourners pushed forward and tried to touch the coffins. Videos showed a few people in the crowds weeping.

But while some Iranians mourned Raisi, others welcomed the loss of a man they viewed as a key figure in a corrupt regime who oversaw the execution of dissidents, used violence to suppress and kill protesters, and arrested journalists and activists.

After the events in Tabriz, the bodies were brought to the airport, where a military band played as the coffins were carried one by one to a plane that flew them to Tehran, the capital. A line of dignitaries along a red carpet greeted them at the airport, video filmed by the Reuters news agency showed.

Iranian authorities have declared Wednesday an official public holiday, and funeral prayers and a burial procession are scheduled to take place in Tehran. The events will include a ceremony attended by foreign dignitaries, according to the state news media.

Turkey said it would send a delegation that includes its vice president, Cevdet Yilmaz, and foreign minister; it was not yet clear which other world leaders would attend. The Kremlin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said that Moscow would not be sending a delegation, according to Russian state news agency Tass.

Raisi's burial is set to take place in his home city, Mashhad, on Thursday.

Iran's leaders have moved to project a sense of calm in the aftermath of the crash, reassuring the public that the government will continue to function. An interim president, Mohammad Mokhber, and interim foreign minister, Ali Bagheri Kani, were quickly named. A date for new presidential elections -- June 28 -- has been set.

But apprehension remains about what comes next for the country, which has careened from crisis to crisis. The crash occurred at a particularly fraught moment for Iran, against a backdrop of economic crisis, widespread public discontent and geopolitical tensions that last month pushed Israel and Iran to exchange rare direct attacks.

Analysts in Iran said the stability and survival of the Islamic Republic were not at risk, but many were wary about who would take over as president and who would constitute the next government.

The death of Amirabdollahian also disrupts Iran's recent flurry of diplomacy with regional Arab countries to forge closer ties, manage the wider conflict with Israel and conduct indirect talks with the United States.

On Tuesday, Iran's Foreign Ministry underscored that its work was continuing uninterrupted. It said that Bagheri Kani had spoken by phone with his Jordanian and Turkish counterparts. The conversations, according to state media, featured condolences over Raisi's death along with discussions about the need to end the war in the Gaza Strip.

But some Palestinians in Gaza said they were skeptical about whether Iran was truly committed to helping secure a cease-fire.

"From the Palestinians' perspective, Iran only takes an interest from the Palestinian cause and making use of our cause," said Faris Mahmoud al-Najjar, 36, a blacksmith in the southern Gaza city of Khan Younis. "It is only good at selling words to us and other audiences, but many people are not buying it anymore."

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Published 21 May 2024, 16:15 IST

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