Thousands Bid Farewell to Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi Ahead of Burial

In a somber display of national grief, thousands of Iranians marched in the eastern city of Birjand on Thursday to pay their final respects to President Ebrahim Raisi, who tragically died in a helicopter crash earlier this week. Raisi, 63, along with his foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and six others, perished when their helicopter crashed in the mountainous northwest of Iran while returning from a dam inauguration on Sunday.

Supreme Leader Leads Mourning

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who had been widely expected to pass the mantle of leadership to Raisi, led prayers for the late president in Tehran on Wednesday. The solemn ceremony saw Khamenei kneeling before the coffins of the eight crash victims, underscoring the gravity of the loss to the nation. The supreme leader has declared five days of national mourning and has temporarily assigned Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, 68, as caretaker president until a new election can be held on June 28.

Massive Crowds in Tehran

Tehran witnessed an immense outpouring of grief on Wednesday, with massive crowds gathering for a funeral procession to honor Raisi. Officials and media have dubbed the late president a “martyr,” reflecting his significance and the impact of his sudden death on the country. The streets of the capital were lined with mourners holding placards of Raisi and waving flags, demonstrating the deep respect and admiration held for the late leader.

Final Resting Place

Ebrahim Raisi will be laid to rest at the holy shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad, his birthplace. The shrine, a key Shia mausoleum, has been meticulously prepared for the final day of funerary rites. Iranian media published images on Wednesday showing large photos of Raisi, black flags, and Shia symbols erected throughout Mashhad, particularly around the Imam Reza shrine, in anticipation of the final farewell.

Foreign Minister Amir-Abdollahian Also Mourned

The late Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, who also perished in the crash, will be buried on Thursday in the shrine of Shah Abdol-Azim in the town of Shahre-Rey, south of Tehran. A ceremony in the capital on Wednesday saw Iranian officials and foreign dignitaries paying their respects to the top diplomat. Among those attending were Tunisian President Kais Saied and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, highlighting the international impact of the tragedy.

International Condolences and Reactions

Condolences have poured in from around the world. Russia and China, alongside NATO, have expressed their sorrow, and the UN Security Council observed a minute’s silence. Messages of condolence were also received from regional allies, including the Syrian government and groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah. However, it is notable that European Union member countries were absent from the official ceremonies, while some non-member countries like Belarus and Serbia sent representatives.

Future Uncertainty

The unexpected death of President Raisi has cast uncertainty over Iran's political future. A presidential election had not been anticipated until next year, and the upcoming June 28 election to determine Raisi’s successor is generating considerable concern. 

Raisi's presidency, which began in 2021 following the tenure of moderate Hassan Rouhani, was marked by significant challenges. The country grappled with a deepening economic crisis exacerbated by US sanctions over Iran's nuclear activities. His time in office also saw mass protests and heightened tensions with Israel, culminating in unprecedented armed exchanges.

As Iran navigates this period of mourning and political transition, the legacy of President Ebrahim Raisi will undoubtedly be a subject of reflection and debate. His sudden death leaves a notable void in the country's leadership, and the upcoming election will be pivotal in shaping the future trajectory of the nation.

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