close
Wednesday June 19, 2024

Iran mourns Raisi’s death, Mokhber takes over as interim president

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields ultimate power in Iran, declared five days of mourning

By Asim Yasin & Mumtaz Alvi
May 21, 2024
People gather to mourn for the death of the late Irans President Ebrahim Raisi, in Tehran, Iran, May 20, 2024. — Reuters
People gather to mourn for the death of the late Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi, in Tehran, Iran, May 20, 2024. — Reuters

TEHRAN: Iranians on Monday mourned the death of President Ebrahim Raisi when his helicopter crashed into a fog-shrouded mountain,setting off a period of political uncertainty in the Islamic republic.

Raisi, 63, his foreign minister and seven others died when the aircraft went down on Sunday in a remote area of northwestern Iran, where the wreckage was only found on Monday morning.

The ultraconservative Raisi had been in office since 2021, a turbulent time during which Iran was rocked by mass protests, economic crisis deepened by US sanctions, and armed exchanges with arch-enemy Israel.

Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who wields ultimate power in Iran, declared five days of mourning and said vice president Mohammad Mokhber, 68, would assume interim presidential duties until elections are held within 50 days. Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani was appointed as acting foreign minister, IRNA said. “The Iranian nation has lost a sincere and valuable servant,” said 85-year-old Khamenei, whom Raisi had been expected to one day succeed by many observers.

Any candidate must first be vetted by the Guardian Council, a hardline watchdog that has often disqualified even prominent conservative and moderate officials, meaning the overall thrust of Iranian policy would be unlikely to change.

Thousands of mourners massed in central Tehran’s Valiasr Square to pay their respects to Raisi as well as to Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian. But other Iranians showed little sorrow. Funeral rites were set to start Tuesday in Tabriz, East Azerbaijan province, for them and the other victims -- three crew, two bodyguards, an imam and a provincial governor -- before Raisi’s body was to be taken to Tehran.

Iran’s military chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri ordered “a high-ranking committee to launch an investigation into the cause of the president’s helicopter crash”. State TV broke the news early Monday that “the servant of the Iranian nation, Ayatollah Ebrahim Raisi, has achieved the highest level of martyrdom”, showing pictures of him as a voice recited the Holy Quran. Flags soon flew at half-mast and a black banner was hoisted at a major shrine in city of Qom south of Tehran.

An Israeli official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters it was not involved in the crash. US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said he had no insight into the cause of the crash, adding the US had no part to play in it. “As Iran selects a new president, we reaffirm our support for the Iranian people and their struggle for human rights and fundamental freedoms,” State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said as the U.S. expressed its “official condolences”.

The price of gold hit a record high in the morning as the shock news boosted support for the precious metal seen as a haven investment. But analysts did not expect major changes, pointing out that ultimate power in Iran is held by the supreme leader and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps who work with a regional network of armed groups.

Iranian authorities first raised the alarm on Sunday afternoon when they lost contact with Raisi’s helicopter as it returned from a border meeting with Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev to inaugurate a dam.

Only two of the convoy’s three helicopters landed in Tabriz, setting off a massive search and rescue effort, with multiple foreign governments soon offering help. Interior Minister Ahmad Vahidi at first spoke of a “hard landing” and urged citizens to ignore hostile foreign media channels and get their information “only from state television”.

Guards, army and police personnel joined the search as Red Crescent teams trudged up a steep hillside in the rain while rows of emergency services vehicles waited nearby. As the sun rose Monday, rescue crews said they had located the destroyed Bell 212 helicopter, with no survivors.

State TV reported that the aircraft had “hit a mountain and disintegrated” on impact, and the Red Crescent soon confirmed that “the search operations have come to an end”. Raisi had in 2021 succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani, at a time when the economy was battered by renewed US sanctions over Iran’s contested nuclear programme.

Iran saw a wave of protests in 2022 triggered by the death in custody of Iranian-Kurdish woman Mahsa Amini after her arrest for allegedly flouting strict dress rules for women. In March 2023, regional rivals Iran and Saudi Arabia signed a surprise deal that restored diplomatic relations. The Gaza war sent tensions soaring and a series of tit-for-tat escalations led to Tehran launching hundreds of missiles and rockets directly at Israel in April.

In a speech hours before his death, Raisi emphasised Iran’s support for the Palestinians, a centrepiece of its foreign policy since the 1979 Islamic revolution. “We believe that Palestine is the first issue of the Muslim world,” said Raisi.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif has declared a day of national mourning in Pakistan on Tuesday to pay tribute to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and Governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province who passed away in a helicopter crash.

In an expression of fraternal solidarity on behalf of the government and people of Pakistan with the government and people of Iran on the sad demise of the President of Iran Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the prime minister has declared Tuesday as a day of national mourning in Pakistan, a press release issued by the Cabinet Division said. The national flag will fly at half-mast throughout the country on Tuesday, May 21.

In its reaction, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Government and the people of Pakistan expressed deep shock and sadness over the tragic news of the martyrdom of the President of Iran Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in a helicopter crash. “We extend our heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families and to the people and government of the Islamic Republic of Iran in this moment of profound sorrow and grief. Our thoughts and prayers are with the families of the martyrs and the people of the Islamic Republic of Iran. We stand in solidarity with them in this time of national tragedy,” the Foreign Office spokesperson Mumtaz Zahra Baloch said in a statement.

She said that President Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian were esteemed leaders and statesmen whose contributions to their country and reinforcing Pakistan-Iran relations and regional cooperation will always be remembered. She recalled that both leaders had visited Pakistan this April when important understandings were reached by the two sides to further solidify their bilateral ties. Pakistan reiterates its commitment to furthering the bonds of friendship and cooperation with Iran, as envisioned by the late leaders, she added.

President Asif Ali Zardari in his reaction expressed profound shock and sorrow over the tragic death of the President of Iran, Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, in a helicopter crash. He extended his heartfelt condolences to the bereaved families of the Iranian president, the foreign minister, and others who lost their lives in the accident.

The president paid tribute to President Raisi’s dedicated services to the Ummah, highlighting his steadfast advocacy for the unity of the Ummah. He emphasized that the Islamic World has lost a remarkable leader who always supported the Muslim cause and deeply felt the sufferings of the Muslims globally, particularly the Palestinian and Kashmiri people. “Today, Pakistan mourns the loss of a great friend. Just last month, we had the honor of hosting him in Pakistan. During our discussions, I found him very keen on strengthening our bilateral relations. Agha Raisi always had a special place for Pakistan and its people, in whichever position he served whether as President of the Islamic Republic of Iran or as Custodian of Imam Raza’s (A.S) Shrine,” President Zardari stated.

He described Raisi’s passing as a great loss not only for Iran but for the entire Muslim Ummah. Zardari remarked that President Raisi will be dearly missed and fondly remembered in Iran, Pakistan, and the Islamic World for his efforts to enhance relations with regional and Islamic countries. “May Allah Almighty bless his soul and grant patience and strength to his family and the people of Iran in this time of irreparable loss,” prayed the President.

Acting President Syed Yousaf Raza Gilani expressed deep sorrow over the tragic loss of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian, and the Governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province, Malek Rahmati, in a helicopter accident.

He said, “I am deeply saddened by the news of the passing of President Raisi, Foreign Minister Abdullahian and Governor Rahmati. The loss of President Raisi is an irreparable tragedy. The Parliament and the people of Pakistan pay tribute to his remarkable political and social services”. According to the Senate Secretariat, the Acting President also conveyed his condolences to the families of all those who lost their lives in the accident. “The Parliament and the people of Pakistan share the grief of the bereaved families,” he affirmed. Gilani prayed to Allah Almighty to elevate the ranks of the deceased and grant patience to their families. Acting Chairman of the Senate, Syedal Khan also extended condolences to the families of the deceased and the people of Iran. He prayed to Allah to grant patience to the families.

Speaker National Assembly, Sardar Ayaz Sadiq expressed profound sorrow over the tragic demise of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash.

The Speaker remarked that the news of the crash, which also claimed the lives of Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and other high-ranking officials, was deeply heart-wrenching and unfortunate, said a news release. He expressed his shock at the news of the sudden passing away of President Raisi, describing him as a great friend of Pakistan.

Recalling their recent meeting during late President Raisi’’s visit to Pakistan, the Speaker highlighted their fruitful discussions aimed at strengthening bilateral and parliamentary cooperation.

He noted that President Raisi was a strong proponent of the Pak-Iran partnership for regional development. Ayaz Sadiq also mentioned the President’’s statement about the strong, heartfelt relations between the people of both countries, which still resonates with him. The Speaker on behalf of the parliament and himself, extended heartfelt condolences to the government of Iran, the families of the president, the foreign minister, and all others who lost their lives in the incident, as well as to the people of the brotherly nation of Iran over the martyrdom of Iranian leadership in the helicopter crash.

Ayaz Sadiq assured that the government, parliament, and people of Pakistan stand in solidarity with their Iranian brethren in this time of grief and pledged full support and cooperation from Pakistan to overcome this unimaginable loss.

Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) Founding Chairman Imran Khan expressed deep grief over the tragic deaths of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and other dignitaries. In his condolence message, the PTI Founding Chairman said, “We are deeply grieved to hear of the tragic deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in a helicopter crash. He said that they led their country’s resolute support for the beleaguered Palestinian people. “Our heartfelt condolences go to the people and leadership of the Islamic Republic of Iran as we stand with them in their hour of grief and trial,” Imran Khan added.

In his condolence message, PTI Chairman Barrister Gohar Khan said that he was greatly saddened by the tragic news of the deaths of President Ebrahim Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian. “May God bless them,” he prayed. “Our heartfelt prayers and condolences to their families, His Highness Ali Khamenei and His Excellency the Ambassador of Iran to Pakistan. We all share the grief with Iranian people,” Barrister Gohar added.

Separately, former foreign minister and senior PTI leader Shah Mehmood Qureshi also took to his X account to condole with the Iranian government and the nation. He wrote, “my heartfelt condolences to the Government and People of the Islamic Republic of Iran on the devastating loss of President Dr. Seyyed Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amir Abdollahian and all those who perished. Pakistan mourns with our brotherly neighbour in this time of sorrow. I cherished my relationship with FM Abdollahian and held him in the highest regard. Our thoughts and prayers are with their families”.

Also, Chairman Pakistan People’s Party Bilawal Bhutto Zardari has expressed deepest grief and sorrow over the tragic death of Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and their fellow passengers in a helicopter crash.

In a statement, the PPP Chairman said that every Pakistani is deeply grieved over the saddest incident and stands in solidarity with their Iranian brethren. Bilawal offered heartfelt condolences to the government of Islamic Republic of Iran and its citizens.

The provincial assembly (PA) of Sindh also passed a resolution paying homage to Iranian President Syed Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and other personalities, who lost their lives in a tragic helicopter crash.

It was moved by Sindh Home Minister Ziaul Hasan Lanjar. He said, “This House expresses its deepest condolences and sorrow over the tragic helicopter accident that resulted in the loss of Iranian President Syed Ebrahim Raisi, Foreign Minister, Hossein Amirabdollahian, and other esteemed personalities.” He said that Iran was a strong and steadfast friend of Pakistan. The two nations share a rich history and cultural heritage with deep and strong roots. Iran was the first country, who recognised Pakistan’s existence and both nations had stood for each other through thick and thin, he added. The home minister said that this house extended its heartfelt condolences to the Iranian people and the families of the deceased.

Chief Minister of Sindh Syed Murad Ali Shah, speaking on the resolution, said that the previous day was a sad day for the whole Muslim world. Murad said, ‘I myself, on behalf of the Sindh government and the people of Sindh share sympathies with the people of Iran in this hour of grief.’ He said that the Iranian President visited Karachi on April 23, 2024 and after a long time, a head of state had visited the country. Shah said that the Iranian President held his all events in the Chief Minister House Sindh and addressed a big gathering. ‘He spent a few hours in Karachi will be remembered, ‘ he said. The CM also expressed his grief and sorrow over the death of the Iranian foreign minister

The Opposition Leader in Sindh Assembly Ali Khursheedi said that the death of the Iranian President was a tragic incident for the entire Muslim ummah. Pakistan had lost a good friend. He further said that the hearts of the people of Pakistan went out to the people of Iran in this hour of grief.