Thousands mourn Iranian President Raisi as Assembly of Experts appoints new head

Mr Raisi's body has arrived in Qom as Iranians divided in their reaction to his death

Mourners attend a funeral ceremony for the late president Ebrahim Raisi in Tabriz, in Iran's East Azerbaijan province. Reuters
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The funeral procession for Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi began on Tuesday, with events to be held across the country before he is buried in the north-eastern city of Mashhad on Thursday.

Funeral rites began in the city of Tabriz, in East Azerbaijan province, where a lorry carrying the remains of the president and his entourage were paraded through tightly packed streets as government officials gave speeches to the crowd.

Mourners also gathered in Tehran's Valiasr Square ahead of the cortege arriving in the capital on Wednesday.

The hardline president, 63, died in a helicopter crash in north-western Iran on Sunday night. Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, East Azerbaijan provincial Governor Malik Rahmati and Mohammed Ali Ale Hashem, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei's representative to East Azerbaijan, were also killed.

State TV broadcast scenes of large crowds of mostly men in Tabriz, where streets were adorned with images of the Mr Raisi and others killed in the crash.

The remains were then flown to Tehran's Mehrabad Airport before being transferred to the holy city of Qom, where Mr Raisi studied at a seminary as a teenager.

Some Tabriz mourners held Palestinian flags, while many others held pictures of Mr Raisi with Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Quds Force commander Qassem Suleimani, who was killed in a US air strike in January 2020.

Mr Raisi was travelling to Tabriz when the helicopter crashed in heavy fog, near the village of Tavil. On Tuesday night, a “people's farewell” ceremony is to be held at the Imam Khomeini Mosque in Tehran.

About 70 rescue teams searched mountainous terrain on foot overnight before finding the wreckage of their Bell 212 helicopter on Monday morning.

As mourning ceremonies got under way, Iran's Assembly of Experts – a body which appoints the supreme leader – met in Tehran for the first time since elections in March, with a portrait of Mr Raisi placed on an empty seat.

The assembly appointed Ayatollah Mohammad Ali Movahedi Kermani, Tehran's Imam for Friday Prayers, as its new chairman.

Mr Raisi's body will be taken on Wednesday morning from Tehran University towards the city's Azadi Square, before a ceremony is held involving delegation of high-ranking foreign officials. Mr Khamenei will also pray over Mr Raisi's body in Tehran.

Another funeral ceremony will be held in the eastern city of Birjand, before Mr Raisi is buried in his hometown of Mashhad, state news agency Irna reported.

Five days of national mourning were declared by Mr Khamenei following the death of the president, who was widely expected to succeed the 85-year-old as supreme leader.

Iranian authorities have declared Wednesday to be a national holiday. The second Wednesday in June has also been declared an official holiday from now on.

National exams scheduled for this week have been cancelled and governors may decide to “close” provinces where funeral ceremonies are held, Iran said.

While flags are flying at half-mast and black banners have been raised at shrines in Qom, where Mr Raisi studied in a seminary as a teenager, the mood among the Iranian public has varied.

Mr Raisi was unpopular with many and was known as the “butcher of Tehran” for his role in the execution of about 5,000 political detainees in the 1980s.

More recently, the arrest and killing of demonstrators during the Mahsa Amini protests, and the tightening of restrictions on women's freedoms, also hardened opposition towards the president.

Critics of the regime have held events outside Iranian embassies in the UK and Canada since his death was announced.

Iran's First Vice President Mohammed Mokhber was named interim president, while Ali Bagheri Kani, who lead Iran's nuclear negotiations with western powers, has replaced Mr Amirabdollahian as foreign minister.

Iran is to hold presidential elections on June 28. Iran held parliamentary polls in March that were marred by a record low turnout of voters, with public apathy compounded by crackdowns on critics of the regime and an economy hit hard by sanctions.

Updated: May 21, 2024, 3:55 PM