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Opposition calls for gathering to mourn Montazeri

Text by FRANCE 24 (with wires)

Latest update : 2009-12-21

Opposition leaders in Iran are calling on supporters to get together to mourn the country's most senior dissident cleric, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, whose death was announced on Sunday.

He was one of the founders of the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979 and later was among the most virulent critics of the regime established. Both a political dissident and a highly respected religious figure, Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri died on Saturday night, news agencies reported on Sunday. He was 87.

Thousands of Montazeri’s supporters were travelling to attend his funeral in the Shi’ite holy city of Qom on Sunday, a moderates’ website reported.

Meanwhile, opposition supporters gathered in various places in Tehran to pay homage to Montazeri.

As recently as last August, Montazeri had spoken out against Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s presidency, qualifying the controversially re-elected leader’s rule as “dictatorial” and predicting that the regime would fail.

But Montazeri was not always such a high-profile opposition figure. He was even, at one point, proposed as a probable successor to founder of the Islamic Republic and first Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Khomeini. A prominent theologian, Montazeri was also current Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei’s teacher when Khamenei was a student.

Toward the end of the 1980s, Montazeri expressed opposition to the gradual hardening of the politico-religious regime, speaking out against the execution of dozens of opposition members in January 1988, as well as the fatwa proclaimed against writer Salman Rushdie in February 1989. Those positions would soon cost Montazeri his place in Iran’s inner power circle.

Since Khomeini’s death in June of 1989, Montazeri had resided in the holy city of Qom and lived under house arrest from 1997 to 2003. Once the house arrest was lifted, the cleric resumed more vocal criticism of Iranian policy, seeming to resume his role as spiritual leader of the opposition.

“A political system based on force, oppression, changing people’s votes, killing, closure, arresting and using Stalinist and medieval torture, creating repression, censorship of newspapers, interruption of the means of mass communications, jailing the enlightened and the elite of society for false reasons, and forcing them to make false confessions in jail, is condemned and illegitimate,” Montazeri wrote recently on the Internet, denouncing the very state he had helped to found.

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Date created : 2009-12-20