Adviser to Iran's foreign minister dies of coronavirus

Mr Hossein Sheikholeslam (above), who was adviser to Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, died from coronavirus on March 5, 2020. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM YOUTUBE

TEHERAN (AFP) - An adviser to Iran's foreign minister who took part in the 1979 US embassy hostage crisis has died from coronavirus, the official Irna news agency reported.

Mr Hossein Sheikholeslam, "a veteran and revolutionary diplomat" died late on Thursday (March 5), Irna said.

Iran has been scrambling to contain the rapid spread of coronavirus, which so far has infected 3,513 people and killed at least 107 people in the Islamic republic.

Six of those who died from coronavirus are politicians or government officials.

Before his death, Mr Sheikholeslam was adviser to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.

A former ambassador to Syria, he also served as deputy foreign minister from 1981 to 1997.

Mr Sheikholeslam was also one of the students involved in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis.

That year, and less than nine months after the toppling of the American-backed shah, Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Teheran and took 52 Americans hostage.

This prompted Washington to sever diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980.

The hostages were freed in January 1981, after 444 days in captivity.

The novel coronavirus has also claimed the lives of other high-profile Iranian officials, including Mr Mohammad Mirmohammadi of the Expediency Council, which advises the supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Other deaths linked to the virus include Mr Mohammad Ali Ramezani, an MP from Gilan, one of the worst-hit provinces in the country.

Teheran MP Fatemeh Rahbar is currently in a coma after being infected, according to Isna news agency.

Iran has closed schools and universities, suspended major cultural and sporting events and reduced working hours across the country to halt the rapid spread of coronavirus, which has spread to all of its 31 provinces.

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