Iran unites to bid farewell to Raf­san­jani

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - REUTERS AND ANA

THOU­SANDS of Ira­ni­ans massed in cen­tral Tehran yes­ter­day for the fu­neral of former pres­i­dent Ak­bar Hashemi Raf­san­jani in a show of unity to hon­our the Is­lamic Repub­lic’s po­lar­is­ing prag­ma­tist.

Raf­san­jani, who died on Sun­day aged 82, was buried next to Ay­a­tol­lah Ruhol­lah Khome­ini, who led the coun­try’s Is­lamic rev­o­lu­tion in 1979 and founded the coun­try’s sys­tem of theo­cratic rule.

Raf­san­jani’s prag­matic poli­cies of eco­nomic lib­er­al­i­sa­tion and bet­ter re­la­tions with the West at­tracted fierce sup­port­ers and equally fierce crit­ics dur­ing his life, but his fu­neral brought both sides to­gether in a show of sol­i­dar­ity and unity.

Pop­u­larly known as a “pil­lar of the Rev­o­lu­tion”, he wielded wide in­flu­ence in core de­ci­sion-mak­ing bod­ies of Iran.

In a move seen at the time as power-shar­ing, he played a sig­nif­i­cant role in 1989 in ap­point­ing Ay­a­tol­lah Ali Khamenei to suc­ceed Khome­ini as new supreme leader of Iran.

Raf­san­jani was elected as new pres­i­dent a few months later. How­ever, their friend­ship grad­u­ally turned into ri­valry as the prag­ma­tist pres­i­dent sided with re­formists who pro­moted free­doms, while Khamenei fol­lowed a con­ser­va­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the core val­ues of the Is­lamic Repub­lic.

In his con­do­lence mes­sage, Khamenei said po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences could never “en­tirely break up” his nearly 60 years of friend­ship with Raf­san­jani.

Streets were filled overnight with bill­boards that showed a pic­ture of the two men smil­ing and chat­ting as close friends. “No one would be like Hashemi for me,” the bill­boards quoted Khamenei as say­ing, us­ing Raf­san­jani’s first fam­ily name. Ira­ni­ans usu­ally have two fam­ily names.

“Ay­a­tol­lah Hashemi tried all his life to save the Is­lamic Rev­o­lu­tion… He wanted to pre­serve the unity of Iran,” his son Mohsen was quoted as say­ing by state news agency IRNA at the fu­neral.

A wit­ness said “some were chant­ing slo­gans ask­ing po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers to be re­leased, some hard­lin­ers were shout­ing ‘Death to Amer­ica’. But they didn’t clash. Every­one was re­spect­ful.”

Khamenei said the fi­nal prayer over Raf­san­jani’s body in the Univer­sity of Tehran court­yard, where the late pres­i­dent de­liv­ered many of his speeches dur­ing Fri­day prayers.

Politi­cians, mil­i­tary com­man­ders and re­li­gious fig­ures from all camps stood be­hind him.

The pres­i­dent, head of par­lia­ment, head of the ju­di­ciary and se­nior Khamenei ad­vis­ers stood in the first line at the ser­vice, while cab­i­net min­is­ters and the de­ceased leader’s rel­a­tives filled the rows be­hind them.

Raf­san­jani’s body, sealed in a metal cof­fin with his white tur­ban on top, was then brought in pro­ces­sion down Rev­o­lu­tion Street in cen­tral Tehran.

Pres­i­dent Ja­cob Zuma on Mon­day con­veyed con­do­lences to the Ira­nian gov­ern­ment af­ter the pass­ing of Raf­san­jani, the Depart­ment of In­ter­na­tional Re­la­tions and Co-op­er­a­tion said.

Mourn­ers gather dur­ing the fu­neral of former pres­i­dent Ak­bar Hashemi Raf­san­jani in Tehran, Iran, yes­ter­day.

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