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Mourners attend funeral of former Iranian leader Rafsanjani

Atta Kenare, AFP | Mourners gather around the coffin of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani during an hours-long ceremony in South Tehran.

Hundreds of thousands of mourners led by Iran's supreme leader gathered at Tehran University early on Tuesday for the funeral of former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani.


Iran is holding an hours-long ceremony for the veteran politician, who died on Sunday at the age of 82. Authorities have declared Tuesday a public holiday so that Iranians can commemorate the late president.

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei led the prayers by Rafsanjani's casket.

President Hassan Rouhani, parliament speaker Ali Larijani and his brother judiciary chief Ayatollah Sadegh Larijani accompanied the supreme leader at the prayers.

Former president Mohammad Khatami, an ally of Rafsanjani but long out of favour with the regime, was not part of the official delegation at the service.

Rafsanjani will be buried in the mausoleum of the late leader of the 1979 Islamic Revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.

Black banners were raised in Tehran and some posters showed the supreme leader and Rafsanjani together smiling. Another poster said "good bye, old combatant".

Free bus or metro travel was provided to the funeral venue.

A heavyweight politician

Rafsanjani, a close aide to both Khomeini and Khamenei, served as president from 1989 to 1997. He was a major supporter of Rouhani and served as a go-between for reformers seeking outreach to the world and hardliners.

Leaders of all of Iran's competing political factions were expected to attend the funeral.

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

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

"He was a consequential figure inside Iran. But you know, for what potential impact this could have on Iranian policy, I wouldn't speculate."

Mourners chant slogans for Mousavi

One of Iran's most controversial figures in the West, the head of its Revolutionary Guards' foreign operations division, Major General Qassem Suleimani, was seen at the funeral.

Rafsanjani was a father figure for Iran's moderate and reformist camps.

He fell out of the regime's highest inner circle after the 2009 re-election of hardline former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when he spoke out against the use of lethal force on protesters who claimed the vote was rigged.

Video clips published on social media showed pockets of mourners in the streets around the funeral venue chanting slogans in support of Khatami and fellow reformist Mir Hossein Mousavi.

Mousavi and Mehdi Karoubi, two of the losing candidates in the 2009 election, have been under house arrest since 2011 for leading the so-called Green Movement protests that the regime calls "sedition".

Khatami is under a strict media ban and often prevented from attending public events.

Rafsanjani's son Mohsen invited people to attend the service "in full tranquility".

"Ayatollah Rafsanjani's concern was unity... and we should show off our unity to the world," he said on Monday.

(FRANCE 24 with AP and AFP)

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