'Avenge his blood': Iranians throng streets for Soleimani burial
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Kerman (Iran) (AFP)
Mourners thronged Qasem Soleimani's hometown on Tuesday, many of them baying for blood to avenge the assassination of the top Iranian military commander in a US drone strike.
"No compromise, no submission, revenge!" they yelled as they tried to catch a glimpse of the casket containing Soleimani's remains in the southeastern city of Kerman.
A hugely popular figure in Iran, Soleimani was killed on Friday in a US drone strike outside Baghdad international airport.
The assassination, which was ordered by US President Donald Trump, saw a spike in tensions between Iran and the United States and raised fears of a new Middle East war.
Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed "severe revenge" and declared three days of mourning following the assassination which shocked the Islamic republic.
In Kerman, an enormous sea of people dressed in black brought the city centre a standstill, in scenes already witnessed in Ahvaz, Tehran, Qom and Mashhad.
As the funeral cortege passed, the mourners threw their scarves on top of the truck carrying Soleimani's casket to have them blessed by the blood of a "martyr".
The crowd slowly shifted as the military truck carrying the remains of the general and his companions edged forward.
Emotions ran high as calls for revenge grew.
"He was a father to us all... a father we all trusted and had pride in," said a teary-eyed woman who told AFP she had been at the ceremony since early morning.
"God will avenge his blood," said a 45-year-old woman who gave only her surname as Dorani.
- 'We are all Soleimani' -
A war veteran on the sidelines of the procession paid tribute to the slain general.
"He was a great man. We can't all be like him... It's near impossible to replace him, but his flag won't fall," said Hemmat Dehghan.
"We are all Soleimani," the 56-year-old war veteran told AFP.
"Revenge, only revenge. Revenge however officials see fit. We've fallen from our horse but not from our principles."
Chants in isolated areas suddenly turned to a chorus of "revenge, revenge!" as drummers started beating to rhythm usually played in mourning for Imam Hussein, the Shiite martyr.
Some took to rooftops to escape the tightly packed streets which were dotted with huge crimson flags, reading "severe revenge" in bold, black font.
A huge poster adorning the side of a four-storey shopping mall read "Severe revenge awaits" Soleimani's killers.
But not everyone at Tuesday's ceremony called for a military conflict with the US.
"War is certainly a last resort. Nobody supports war," Dorani said.
"This was America's ruse, to anger Iranians and drag us to war, but it won't work," she said, adding she would do whatever the supreme leader orders.
© 2020 AFP