Iranians Pay Last Respects To President Raisi Killed In Helicopter Crash

Tens of thousands of Iranians gathered on Tuesday to mourn President Ebrahim Raisi and seven members of his entourage, who were killed in a helicopter crash on a foggy mountainside in the northwest.

Mourners waved Iranian flags and photographs of the late president as they marched from a key center in Tabriz, the northwestern city where Raisi was heading when his chopper crashed on Sunday.

They walked behind a truck transporting Raisi and his seven aides’ coffins.

Their helicopter lost communication on its route back to Tabriz after Raisi attended a ceremony with his counterpart Ilham Aliyev to inaugurate a joint dam project on the Aras river, which forms part of the border with Azerbaijan.

A large search and rescue operation was initiated on Sunday when two other helicopters flying alongside Raisi’s lost touch with his aircraft due to severe weather.

In an early Monday report, state media confirmed his death, stating “the servant of the Iranian nation, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, has achieved the highest level of martyrdom” and showing images of him as a voice recited the Koran.

Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, provincial officials, and members of the Iranian president’s security staff were all killed along with him.

Iran’s armed forces chief of staff, Mohammad Bagheri, ordered an investigation into the reason of the disaster as Iranians around the country gathered to mourn Raisi and his entourage.

Tens of thousands of people gathered in the capital’s Valiasr Square on Monday.

National mourning

Women mourn the death of President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in a helicopter crash at Valiasr Square in Tehran on May 20, 2024. (Photo by Atta KENARE / AFP)

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme authority, declared five days of national mourning and appointed Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, 68, as caretaker president until a presidential election can be held.

State media later declared that the election would take place on June 28.

Ali Bagheri, Iran’s leading nuclear negotiator and deputy to Amir-Abdollahian, was named acting foreign minister.

Raisi’s remains will be flown from Tabriz to the Shiite clerical center of Qom on Tuesday before being transported to Tehran later that evening.

Processions will take place in the capital on Wednesday morning, before Khamenei conducts prayers during a goodbye ceremony.

Raisi’s body will next be flown to his hometown of Mashhad, in the northeast, where he will be buried on Thursday evening following funeral ceremonies.

Raisi, 63, has been in office since 2021. During the ultra-conservative’s tenure, there were massive protests, an escalating economic crisis, and unprecedented armed clashes with arch-enemy Israel.

Raisi succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani at a time when the economy was devastated by US sanctions implemented in response to Iran’s nuclear program.

Iraqis place flowers and light candles for Iran’s late president Ebrahim Raisi (pictured) outside the Iranian embassy in Baghdad during a condolences service on May 20, 2024, for the president and his entourage, who were killed in a helicopter crash in Iran the previous day. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE / AFP)

Condolence messages poured in from Iran’s regional allies, including the Syrian government, Palestinian militant group Hamas, and Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.

The disastrous war in Gaza, now in its ninth month, was launched by an extraordinary Hamas attack on Israel, as were rising tensions between Israel and Iran’s “resistance axis”.

Israel’s assassination of seven Revolutionary Guards in a drone strike on the Iranian consulate in Damascus on April 1 prompted Iran’s first direct attack on Israel, including hundreds of missiles and drones.

In a speech hours before his death, Raisi emphasized Iran’s support for the Palestinians, which has been a cornerstone of its foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Palestinian and Iranian flags were hoisted during rituals honoring the late president.

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