Raisi buried in Mashhad as mourners pack Iranian holy city

Published May 23, 2024
Iranian mourners attend the funeral of late president Ebrahim Raisi in the city of Mashhad, Iran on May 23. — AFP
Iranian mourners attend the funeral of late president Ebrahim Raisi in the city of Mashhad, Iran on May 23. — AFP
A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency shows soldiers carrying the coffin of late Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi and others, as it arrives for a funeral procession in the eastern city of Birjand, Iran on May 23. — AFP
A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency shows soldiers carrying the coffin of late Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi and others, as it arrives for a funeral procession in the eastern city of Birjand, Iran on May 23. — AFP

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi was laid to rest on Thursday, concluding days of funeral rites attended by throngs of mourners after his death in a helicopter crash, state media reported.

Hundreds of thousands marched in his hometown Mashhad to bid farewell to Raisi ahead of his burial following processions in the cities of Tabriz, Qom, Tehran and Birjand.

The 63-year-old died on Sunday alongside his foreign minister and six others after their helicopter went down in the country’s mountainous northwest while returning from a dam inauguration on the border with Azerbaijan.

Once the five days of public mourning, announced on Monday, have passed, the authorities, including acting President Mohammad Mokhber, will focus on organising an election for a new president set for June 28.

Men and women, who were mainly clad in black chadors and clutching white flowers, crowded the main boulevard of Mashhad, the Islamic republic’s second city in the northeast where Raisi was born.

A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency shows Iranian mourners attending the funeral of late president Ebrahim Raisi in the city of Mashhad on May 23. — AFP
A handout picture provided by the Iranian presidency shows Iranian mourners attending the funeral of late president Ebrahim Raisi in the city of Mashhad on May 23. — AFP

Some held aloft placards paying tribute to Raisi as the “man of the battlefield” as a large truck carrying his body drove through the sea of mourners.

“I have come, O king, give me refuge,” said a slogan emblazoned on top of the truck, in reference to Imam Reza.

Posters of Raisi, black flags and religious symbols were erected along the streets of Mashhad, particularly around Raisi’s final resting place — the Imam Reza shrine, a key mausoleum visited by millions of pilgrims every year.

Earlier, thousands of people holding images of Raisi and waving flags lined the streets of Birjand, capital of the eastern province of South Khorasan, for the procession of Raisi’s coffin.

Raisi was South Khorasan’s representative in the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body in charge of selecting or dismissing Iran’s supreme leader.

‘Epic farewell’

Raisi had widely been expected to succeed supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who led prayers in Tehran on Wednesday for the late president and knelt before the coffins of the eight people killed in the helicopter crash.

Among them was foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who was buried on Thursday in the shrine of Shah Abdol-Azim in the town of Shahre Ray south of the capital.

Mourners carry the coffin of late Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, one of the victims of the helicopter crash that killed Iran’s President and others, during his funeral in Tehran, Iran on May 23, 2024. — Reuters
Mourners carry the coffin of late Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, one of the victims of the helicopter crash that killed Iran’s President and others, during his funeral in Tehran, Iran on May 23, 2024. — Reuters

Iranian officials and foreign dignitaries paid their respects to the late top diplomat at a ceremony in Tehran ahead of the burial.

Massive crowds had gathered for a funeral procession in the Iranian capital on Wednesday to pay their final respects to the president, whom officials and media dubbed a “martyr”.

Iran’s newspapers carried large front-page pictures of the gathering on Thursday, hailing the ceremonies as an “Epic farewell” and saying Raisi would forever remain “In the hearts of the people”.

Reformist dailies such as Sazandegi carried headlines that read: “The last farewell”.

Tunisian President Kais Saied and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani attended an afternoon ceremony for Raisi on Wednesday in which around 60 countries took part, according to the official news agency IRNA.

Member countries of the European Union were among the absentees of the ceremony, while some non-member countries, including Belarus and Serbia, had representatives.

The leaders of the Iran-led “axis of resistance” regional militant groups also came to the Islamic republic for the funeral.

Among them were Ismail Haniyeh, leader of Hamas’s political bureau in Qatar, and senior members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement and Yemen’s Houthi rebels as well as representatives of Islamic Jihad and Iraqi militant groups.

They met on the sidelines of the funeral with General Hossein Salami, commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and Esmail Qaani, head of the Guards’ foreign operations arm, the Quds Force, for talks on the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza.

Uncertainty

Khamenei, who wields ultimate authority in Iran, declared the five days of national mourning and assigned vice president Mokhber, 68, as caretaker president until the June 28 election.

A presidential election in Iran had not been expected until next year, and the crash has caused some uncertainty as to who will succeed Raisi, with some expressing concern about the upcoming president.

“How do I find someone like him? I’m really worried about that,” said 31-year-old cleric Mohsen at Wednesday’s gathering in Tehran.

“As far as I know, we don’t have anyone of his stature.”

Raisi was elected president in 2021, succeeding the moderate Hassan Rouhani at a time when the economy was battered by US sanctions imposed over Iran’s nuclear activities.

The ultra-conservative’s time in office saw mass protests, a deepening economic crisis and unprecedented armed exchanges with arch-enemy Israel. After his death, Russia and China sent their condolences, as did Nato, while the UN Security Council observed a minute’s silence.

Messages of condolence also flooded in from Iran’s allies around the region, including the Syrian government as well as Hamas and Hezbollah.

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