Huge crowd bids farewell to Iranian ex-president who fell out with supreme leader

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Iran's President Hassan Rouhani touch the coffin of former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani during his funeral ceremony in Tehran, Iran January 10, 2017. via REUTERS

Two separate sources said Hashemi’s daughter Faezeh, jailed for six months in 2012 on charges of anti-government propaganda, had told people at the funeral that Khatami had been banned from attending. On state television’s live coverage, the opposition chants were drowned out by solemn music.

As a leading power-broker, Rafsanjani helped Khamenei to secure Iran’s most powerful position, that of supreme leader, after Khomeini’s death in 1989, and won election as president himself a few months later.

However, their friendship gradually turned into rivalry as Rafsanjani, who continued to wield enormous influence even after his eight years as president ended, sided with reformists who promoted greater freedom, while Khamenei interpreted the values of the Islamic Republic much more conservatively.

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

Streets were filled overnight with billboards that showed a picture of the two men smiling and chatting as close friends.

“No one will be like Hashemi for me,” the billboards quoted Khamenei as saying, using Rafsanjani’s first family name.


It was Khamenei who said the final prayer over Rafsanjani’s body in the University of Tehran courtyard where the late president delivered many of his sermons during Friday prayers.

Politicians, military commanders and religious figures from all camps stood behind him.

President Hassan Rouhani, the head of parliament, the head of the judiciary and senior Khamenei advisers stood in the first line at the service, while cabinet ministers and the deceased leader’s relatives filled the rows behind them.

Rafsanjani’s body, sealed in a metal coffin with his white turban on top, was then brought in procession down Revolution Street in central Tehran, where hundreds of thousands of people came out in cold winter weather to pay tribute.

Among those attending were Revolutionary Guards Commander Qassem Soleimani, leading Iranian Sunni cleric Molavi Abdolhamid Ismaeelzahi, several of Khomeini’s grandsons and even a number of Iranian movie stars.

Rafsanjani’s death is a blow to Rouhani, whom he had backed in the 2013 presidential election and who now faces re-election having resolved Iran’s long nuclear standoff with the West but shown little of the economic payoff that he had promised.

Rouhani’s deputy chief of staff, Hamid Aboutalebi, tweeted: “The glorious presence of people of Tehran in the funeral and their tearful farewell show that they will never forget Rafsanjani’s moderate thoughts and his allies.”

Rafsanjani was a member of the Assembly of Experts, the clerical body that selects the supreme leader. His absence from that debate, whenever it happens, means the chances of a pragmatist succeeding Khamenei are reduced.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

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