• Thursday, June 13, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Iran president Raisi’s death shocking: Modi

The helicopter went down in Varzeqan region north of Tabriz while Raisi was returning from an official visit to the border with Azerbaijan to inaugurate a dam

Rescue team carry a body following a crash of a helicopter carrying Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi, in Varzaqan, East Azerbaijan Province, Iran, May 20, 2024. (Stringer/WANA West Asia News Agency via REUTERS)

By: Shajil Kumar

Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday expressed shock and sadness at the demise of Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi (63), and said his contribution in strengthening India-Iran bilateral relationship will always be remembered.

The charred wreckage of the helicopter which crashed on Sunday carrying Raisi, Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian and six other passengers and crew was found early on Monday after an overnight search in blizzard conditions.

The helicopter went down in Varzeqan region north of Tabriz, as Raisi returned from an official visit to the border with Azerbaijan, in Iran’s northwest, to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint project.

“Deeply saddened and shocked by the tragic demise of Dr Seyed Ebrahim Raisi, President of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” Modi said on X.

“His contribution to strengthening India-Iran bilateral relationship will always be remembered. My heartfelt condolences to his family and the people of Iran. India stands with Iran in this time of sorrow,” the prime minister said.

India recently signed a 10-year agreement to develop and operate Iran’s strategic Chabahar Port in a bid to boost trade ties with landlocked Afghanistan and Central Asian countries, bypassing Pakistan.

Successor appointed

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear programme, said First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber, would take over as interim president, the official IRNA news agency reported.

“I announce five days of public mourning and offer my condolences to the dear people of Iran,” Khamenei said in a statement. Mokhber, like Raisi, is seen as close to Khamenei.

Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani was appointed as acting foreign minister following the death of Amirabdollahian, IRNA said.

Iran’s military chief of staff Mohammad Bagheri has ordered into the cause of a helicopter crash that killed Raisi and his entourage.

Turbulent period

The crash comes at a time of growing dissent within Iran over an array of political, social and economic crises. Iran’s clerical rulers face international pressure over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme and its deepening military ties with Russia during the war in Ukraine.

Russian President Vladimir Putin hailed Raisi as an “outstanding politician” and said his death in a helicopter crash was an “irreplaceable loss.”

Since Iran’s ally Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, provoking Israel’s assault on Gaza, conflagrations involving Iran-aligned groups have erupted throughout the Middle East.

A long “shadow war” between Iran and Israel broke into the open last month with tit-for-tat exchanges of drone and missile fire.

An Israeli official, who requested anonymity, told Reuters it was not involved in the crash.

Government loyalists packed into mosques and squares to pray for Raisi, but most shops remained open and the authorities made little effort to interrupt ordinary life.

Raisi had in 2021 succeeded the moderate Hassan Rouhani, at a time the economy was battered by 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. (Agencies)

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