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Iran begins funerals for President Raisi killed in helicopter crash
Foreign

Iran begins funerals for President Raisi killed in helicopter crash

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Iran began funeral processions Tuesday for President Ebrahim Raisi, as the country grapples with the fallout from his sudden death at a time of heightened regional tensions and domestic uncertainty.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has declared five days of national mourning for Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and six others killed in the helicopter crash in a remote part of northwest Iran on Sunday. The shock incident wiped out two of the Islamic Republic’s key political figures, raising questions about its leadership beyond Khamenei, its ultimate authority.

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Thousands of mourners gathered for the first funeral event early Tuesday in Tabriz, the closest major city to the crash site.

Crowds of people filled the area of the procession, with some carrying posters of the deceased as the vehicle carrying the coffins of those killed in the crash moved by.

The bodies will then be taken to the holy city of Qom in the afternoon.

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Wednesday will be a public holiday as a funeral for Raisi will be held in the capital, Tehran. The ceremony is expected to feature high-ranking foreign dignitaries, state news agency IRNA reported, but it was not clear yet who exactly would attend given Iran’s status on the global stage.

Funerals will be held in two more cities on Thursday. Raisi is expected to be laid to rest in the holy city of Mashhad on Friday.

Raisi’s unexpected death led to scenes of mourning in Iran on Monday, as messages of condolences poured in.

But it was unclear whether Raisi’s death would draw public grieving on the scale of mass funerals like that for Gen. Qassem Soleimani, a top Iranian commander who was killed in a U.S. airstrike in 2020. The theocratic regime often uses such events as a display of national strength and unity.

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Some expressed relief at the death of Raisi, 63, who was also known for presiding over brutal crackdowns on political opponents and protesters.

Laila, a 21-year-old student in Tehran, told the Reuters news agency that she was not saddened by the news, “because he ordered the crackdown on women for hijab.”

“But I am sad because even with Raisi’s death this regime will not change,” she said by phone.

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In a short statement late Monday, the State Department said the United States expressed its “official condolences” for the deaths of Raisi and the seven others killed. “As Iran selects a new president, we reaffirm our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” the statement added.

State Department spokesman Matthew Miller also said that the Iranian government had asked the U.S. for assistance in the aftermath of the crash. Washington agreed, Miller said, but ultimately was not able to provide it, largely for logistical reasons.

The United Nations Security Council, of which the U.S. is a permanent member, also held a moment of silence for Raisi Monday.

Mourners follow a procession carrying the coffins of president Ebrahim Raisi and his seven aides in Tabriz, Iran on May 21, 2024.Ata Dadashi / AFP – Getty Images

Raisi was a conservative hardliner, unlike his more moderate predecessor Hassan Rouhani. His tenure saw the country increasingly clash with the West, particularly over the role of Tehran-backed militant groups like Hamas and Hezbollah, and advance its nuclear program after the U.S. withdrew from a landmark nuclear deal.

Although most observers agreed there was no major threat to the stability of the regime, the late president was among the top contenders to replace the aging Khamenei. His death sparked fears of a succession crisis amid already heightened tensions after Tehran’s unprecedented direct retaliatory attack against Israel.

Iran’s first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, was quickly named a temporary caretaker ahead of an election to choose a new president that has to take place in the next 50 days.

Iran has not offered a cause for the crash that killed Raisi, but there has been no suggestion of foul play.

It officially launched a probe into the crash on Monday. The model that crashed amid heavy fog was a U.S.-made Bell helicopter that Iran bought in the early 2000s, Iranian state media said.

Former Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif blamed U.S.-led sanctions on the Iranian aviation sector for the crash.

Miller, the State Department spokesman, later told reporters that Washington was not going to apologize for its sanctions, adding that it was the Iranian government that was responsible for the decision to fly a 45-year-old helicopter in what were described as poor weather conditions.

NBC/Reuters

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