Funeral for Rafsanjani marred by protests

Mourners gathering during the funeral of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in Teheran yesterday. It took more than two hours for the cortege to get to the mausoleum where Mr Rafsanjani was laid to rest.
Mourners gathering during the funeral of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani in Teheran yesterday. It took more than two hours for the cortege to get to the mausoleum where Mr Rafsanjani was laid to rest.PHOTO: REUTERS

Some Iranians call for political prisoners to be released during the peaceful procession

TEHERAN • Hundreds of thousands of mourners attended the funeral yesterday of Iran's ex-president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, whose death leaves a hole in the upper reaches of power for the country's moderates.

It took more than two hours for the cortege to make its way through the crowds to the south Teheran mausoleum of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, leader of Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, where Mr Rafsanjani was laid to rest.

Mr Rafsanjani, who served as president from 1989 to 1997, was a father figure for Iran's moderate and reformist camps. His death is a blow to President Hassan Rouhani, whose 2013 election was largely due to Mr Rafsanjani's support.

While many of his opponents turned out to honour him, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stressed their close bond, what was intended as a show of unity was clouded by the chants of thousands of opposition supporters, as well as the absence of reformist ex-president Mohammad Khatami.

State television coverage of the funeral captured a few seconds of chants of "Hail Hashemi (Rafsanjani), hail Khatami," before the broadcaster drowned them out with solemn music.

An eyewitness said over the phone from Teheran: "Some were chanting slogans asking for political prisoners to be released, some hardliners were shouting, 'Death to America!' But they didn't clash. Everyone was respectful."

Some of the chants called for the release of former prime minister Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mr Mehdi Karroubi, a cleric and former Speaker of Parliament who lost the disputed 2009 presidential election to Mr Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Both men refused to accept the results of that election and were placed under house arrest while Mr Rafsanjani, who had backed them, was politically isolated.

Ayatollah Khamenei led the eulogies to Mr Rafsanjani at Teheran University despite their "differences".

Since Mr Rafsanjani's death, messages of condolence have poured in at home and from abroad.

Even the White House sent a message, unprecedented since the 1979 revolution that led to cutting of ties between Teheran and Washington.

"Former president Rafsanjani was a prominent figure throughout the history of the Islamic Republic of Iran and the United States sends our condolences to his family and loved ones," spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Yesterday was declared a public holiday in Iran and all public transport in Teheran was free for the day.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2017, with the headline 'Funeral for Rafsanjani marred by protests'. Print Edition | Subscribe