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Iran's Rafsanjani Laid To Rest In Tehran

  • RFE/RL

Hundreds of thousands of Iranians jammed central Tehran for the funeral of former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, an influential figure who continued to wield clout even after his eight years in office ended nearly two decades ago.

Mourners packed streets around Tehran University, where Rafsanjani was lying in state on January 10 before he was buried next to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution and founded its system of theocratic rule.

A national holiday was declared in honor of Rafsanjani, who served as Iran’s president from 1989 to 1997 and died of heart failure on January 8, at the age of 82.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei held prayers over Rafsanjani’s casket. State television in the tightly controlled country said he participated despite his "differences" with Rafsanjani, who was widely considered a moderate.

The official display of unity was undermined by chants calling for the release of reformists held under house arrest and by the absence of another former president, Mohammad Khatami, a political ally of Rafsanjani who is out of favor with the current leadership.

Some reports suggested that Khatami was banned from attending the funeral.

Videos posted on social media seemed to show mourners chanting slogans in support of Khatami and opposition leader Mir Hossein Musavi.

Musavi and Mehdi Karubi, both reformist candidates in the country’s controversial 2009 presidential election have been under house arrest since 2011 for their role in postelection protests.

"Our message is clear, house arrest must end," some chanted, according to amateur videos of the funeral posted on social media.

"Ya Hossein, Mir Hossein," others chanted.

Some of the mourners shouted slogans targeting state television, which has a record of censoring dissenting voices.

"Our state television, our shame," people chanted.

Other high-level figures at the funeral included President Hassan Rohani, parliament speaker Ali Larijani, and judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani -- Ali Larijani’s brother.

Major General Qassem Suleimani, the hard-line conservative leader of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps' foreign operations division, also attended.

The streets of the capital were festooned with black banners and portraits of Rafsanjani. Fares for public transport were waived.

Rafsanjani was elected president months after he helped Khamenei secure the post of supreme leader after Khomeini's death in 1989. But their relationship drifted toward rivalry as Rafsanjani sided with reformists who promoted greater freedom.

In his condolence message, Khamenei said political differences had never been able to "entirely break up" their nearly 60 years of friendship.

On January 9, U.S. President Obama's administration issued a statement calling Rafsanjani a "prominent figure throughout the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran" and sending condolences "to his family and loved ones."

With reporting by Reuters, AP, dpa, and AFP
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