Ira­ni­ans mourn as former leader Raf­san­jani in­terred

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - FRONT PAGE -

TEHRAN: Hun­dreds of thou­sands mourned former Ira­nian Pres­i­dent Ak­bar Hashemi Raf­san­jani Tues­day, wail­ing in grief as his body was in­terred at a Tehran shrine along­side the leader of the coun­try’s 1979 Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion.

Raf­san­jani’s fi­nal rest­ing place near the late Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini re­flected his legacy as one of the pil­lars of Iran’s re­li­gious-dom­i­nated po­lit­i­cal sys­tem, as he served in later years as a go­b­e­tween for hard-lin­ers and re­formists. But even his hours­long fu­neral high­lighted the di­vi­sions still at play. Parts of the crowd along his fu­neral pro­ces­sion at one point chanted in sup­port of op­po­si­tion lead­ers un­der house ar­rest. Other politi­cians did not at­tend the me­mo­rial.

Throngs filled main thor­ough­fares of the cap­i­tal, with many chant­ing, beat­ing their chests and wail­ing.

The fu­neral for Raf­san­jani, who died Sun­day at age 82 af­ter a heart at­tack, drew both the elite and or­di­nary peo­ple. Shops and schools were closed in na­tional mourn­ing.

Top gov­ern­ment and re­li­gious of­fi­cials first held a fu­neral ser­vice at Tehran Univer­sity. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei prayed by Raf­san­jani’s cas­ket, as other dig­ni­taries knelt be­fore the cof­fin on which his white preacher’s tur­ban was placed. Mourn­ers reached out their hands to­ward the cof­fin.

Just be­hind Khamenei was Pres­i­dent Has­san Rouhani, whose ad­min­is­tra­tion reached the re­cent nu­clear deal with world pow­ers. Rouhani, who is all but cer­tain to run for re­elec­tion in May, is viewed as em­body­ing Raf­san­jani’s re­al­ist vi­sion.

Hard-lin­ers also took part in the cer­e­mony Tues­day, like the head of Iran’s ju­di­ciary, Sadegh Lar­i­jani, who stood near his mod­er­ate brother, Par­lia­ment speaker Ali Lar­i­jani.

Also among them was Qassem Soleimani, a gen­eral who heads the Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard’s elite Quds Force, which fo­cuses on for­eign op­er­a­tions like the war in Syria.

Both Soleimani and Raf­san­jani are from Iran’s south­east­ern prov­ince of Ker­man and worked to­gether dur­ing the war with Iraq in the 1980s.

“In my opin­ion, Mr. Hashemi re­mained the same per­son from the be­gin­ning un­til the end and held his line in all stages of his life,” Soleimani told state tele­vi­sion in a rare pub­lic in­ter­view. “Nev­er­the­less, Mr. Hashemi some­times used dif­fer­ent tac­tics.”

Ap­par­ently banned from the fu­neral was former Pres­i­dent Mo­ham­mad Khatami, a re­formist who re­mains pop­u­lar among the young but is deeply dis­liked by hard-lin­ers.

Out­side, mourn­ers car­ried posters bear­ing Raf­san­jani’s im­age as his cas­ket slowly made its way through the crowds in the streets.

“I rarely at­tend re­li­gious cer­e­monies, but I am here as an Ira­nian who can­not for­get Raf­san­jani’s con­tri­bu­tion to de­vel­op­ing the po­lit­i­cal sphere in fa­vor of peo­ple in re­cent years,” said Nima Sheikhi, a com­puter teacher at a pri­vate school.

Of­fi­cials put the num­ber of fu­neral par­tic­i­pants at over 2 mil­lion, though that fig­ure could not be in­de­pen­dently ver­i­fied.

Iran’s in­ter­nal pol­i­tics also were on dis­play. The semi-of­fi­cial ILNA news agency said that on the side­lines of the fu­neral, prom­i­nent mod­er­ate law maker Ali Mot ah ari was asked by sev­eral mourn­ers to free op­po­si­tion lead­ers Mir Hos­sein Mousavi and Mahdi Kar­roubi from the house ar­rest the two have been un­der since 2011.

“Our mes­sage is clear: The house ar­rest should be lifted,” some chanted. Po­lice and se­cu­rity forces did not re­act to the chants.

Raf­san­jani’s cas­ket later ar­rived at the or­nate, mas­sive shrine to Khome­ini, who led the rev­o­lu­tion that top­pled the Amer­i­can-backed shah.

Raf­san­jani’s in­ter­ment there marked a rare priv­i­lege in Iran’s sys­tem, where preach­ers dom­i­nate the levers of power. Only Khome­ini’s son Ah­mad, who died in 1995, had been buried next to his tomb be­fore Tues­day.

Raf­san­jani, a close aide to both Khome­ini and Khamenei, served as pres­i­dent from 1989 to 1997. He helped launch Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram and then pushed for rec­on­cil­i­a­tion with the West. –

Rouhani and Khamenei touch Raf­san­jani’s cof­fin dur­ing the fu­neral cer­e­mony in Tehran.

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