Hundreds of thousands of mourners yesterday attended the funeral 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 Tehran mausoleum where Rafsanjani was laid to rest.
Tehran city officials estimated that at least two-and-a-half million people took to the streets to bid farewell, which would make it the largest funeral attendance since the death of the Islamic revolution’s founder Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1989.
Pallbearers accidentally knocked the former president’s trademark white turban off the coffin as they carried it into the burial chamber at Khomeini’s mausoleum.
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 for President Hassan Rouhani, whose 2013 election was largely due to Rafsanjani’s support.
Rouhani, who spearheaded the thaw with the West that culminated in a 2015 nuclear deal, faces a tough re-election battle in May amid disappointment over the smaller than anticipated economic dividends of the lifting of international sanctions.
Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led the eulogies to Rafsanjani at Tehran University despite their “differences”.
Rafsanjani fell out of the regime’s highest inner circle following the 2009 re-election of hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when he spoke out against the use of lethal force on protesters who claimed the vote was rigged.
Rouhani attended the funeral but so too did his conservative rivals, parliament speaker Ali Larijani, and his brother, judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani.
One of Iran’s most controversial figures in the West, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards’ foreign operations division, Major General Qassem Suleimani, also attended.
Tehran prayer leader Ayatollah Mohamed Emami Kashani passed out and had to be treated at the scene by Health Minister Hassan Ghazizadeh Hashemi, an ophthalmologist by training, Iranian media reported.
Rafsanjani’s family thanked people for their support after the procession. “As every moment of Hashemi’s life helped the country find its path, the impressive farewell of people to him can...point the return of society to the path of moderation and unity,” it said in a statement quoted by the Tabnak website.
Khamenei must now appoint a successor and his choice will go a long way towards determining Rouhani’s room for manoeuvre in the face of state institutions that are dominated by conservatives.
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