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Iran helicopter crash: Supreme leader appoints First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber as acting president

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Iranian President Ebrahim Raïssithe country’s foreign minister and several other officials were found dead on Monday, hours after their helicopter crashed in a mountainous, foggy region in the country’s northwest, state media reported.

The accident comes as the Middle East remains roiled by the war between Israel and Hamas, during which Raisi, 63, under the leadership of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, launched a drone attack and unprecedented missile attacks against Israel last month.

Khamenei announced Monday that Iran’s first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, would serve as the country’s interim president until elections are held.

During Raisi’s tenure, Iran enriched uranium closer to weapons-grade levels than ever before, further escalating tensions with the West as Tehran also supplied bomb-carrying drones to Russia for its war in Ukraine and armed militias in the region.

Meanwhile, Iran faces years of massive protests against its Shiite theocracy over its struggling economy and women’s rights – making the moment even more sensitive for Tehran and the country’s future.

In this photo provided by Moj news agency, rescue teams are seen near the site of the helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi incident in Varzaghan, northwest Iran, on Sunday May 19, 2024. (Azin Haghighi, Moj News Agency via AP)

In this photo provided by the Islamic Republic news agency IRNA, the helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at Iran's border with Azerbaijan after President Raisi and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev inaugurated the Dam Qiz Qalasi, or Girl's Castle in Azeri, in Iran.  , Sunday May 19, 2024. (Ali Hamed Haghdoust/IRNA via AP)

In this photo provided by the Islamic Republic news agency IRNA, the helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi takes off at Iran’s border with Azerbaijan after President Raisi and his Azeri counterpart Ilham Aliyev inaugurated the Dam Qiz Qalasi, or Girl’s Castle in Azeri, in Iran. , Sunday May 19, 2024. (Ali Hamed Haghdoust/IRNA via AP)

State television gave no immediate reason for accident in the Iranian province of East Azerbaijan.

Among the dead was an Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, 60. The helicopter was also carrying the governor of Iran’s East Azerbaijan province and other officials, the official IRNA news agency reported. IRNA said the crash killed eight people in total, including three crew members of the Bell helicopter, which Iran purchased in the early 2000s.

In Iran, planes face a shortage of parts and often fly without safety checks due to Western sanctions. It is for this reason that former Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sought Monday to blame the United States for the accident.

“One of the main culprits for yesterday’s tragedy is the United States, which… imposed an embargo on the sale of aircraft and spare parts to Iran and does not allow the Iranian people to benefit from good aeronautical facilities,” Zarif said. “These will be included in the list of American crimes against the Iranian people.”

The United States has not yet publicly commented on Raisi’s death.

Early Monday morning, Turkish authorities released what they described as drone footage showing what appeared to be a wildfire that they “suspected was helicopter wreckage.” Coordinates shown in the images located the fire about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Azerbaijani-Iranian border, on the side of a steep mountain.

Images released by IRNA early Monday showed what the agency described as the crash site, across a steep valley in a verdant mountain range. The soldiers speaking in the local Azeri language said: “There we are, we found him. »

Condolences began pouring in from neighbors and allies after Iran confirmed there were no survivors of the crash. Pakistan announced a day of mourning and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a message on X that his country “stands with Iran in this time of sadness.” Egyptian and Jordanian leaders also offered their condolences, as did Syrian President Bashar Assad.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said he and his government were “deeply shocked”: Raisi was returning Sunday after traveling to Iran’s border with Azerbaijan to inaugurate a dam with Aliyev when the accident occurred.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan offered his condolences. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a statement released by the Kremlin, described Raisi “as a true friend of Russia.”

Khamenei, who himself urged the public to pray on Sunday evening, stressed that the Iranian government’s business would continue no matter what.

Under Iran’s constitution, Iran’s deputy prime president takes over in the event of the president’s death, with Khamenei’s assent, and a new presidential election would be called within 50 days. Khamenei’s condolence message Monday for Raisi’s death declared five days of public mourning and acknowledged that Mokhber had assumed the role of interim president.

Mokhber had already started receiving calls from foreign officials and governments in Raisi’s absence, state media reported.

An emergency meeting of Iran’s Cabinet was held as state media made the announcement Monday morning. The Cabinet then issued a statement promising that it would follow Raisi’s path and that “with the help of God and the people, there will be no problems with the management of the country.”

A hardliner who once ruled the country’s justice systemRaisi was seen as a protégé of Khamenei and some analysts had suggested he could replace the 85-year-old leader after Khamenei’s death or resignation.

With Raisi’s death, the only other person suggested so far is Mojtaba Khameini, the supreme leader’s 55-year-old son. However, some have raised concerns that the position is being given to a family member for only the third time since 1979, particularly after the Islamic Revolution toppled the Shah’s hereditary Pahlavi monarchy.

Raissi won the 2021 Iranian presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the history of the Islamic Republic. Raisi is sanctioned by the United States in part for his involvement in the mass execution of thousands of political prisoners in 1988, at the end of the bloody Iran-Iraq War.

Under Raisi, Iran now enriches uranium to levels close to weapons manufacturing and obstructs international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war against Ukraine and launched a massive drone and missile attack on Israel as part of its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It also continued to arm proxy groups in the Middle East, such as Yemen’s Houthi rebels and Lebanon’s Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, mass protests have raged across the country for years. The most recent concerned the death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who had previously been arrested for not wearing a hijab or headscarf, to the authorities’ liking. The months-long security crackdown following the protests killed more than 500 people and led to more than 22,000 being arrested.

In March, a United Nations commission of inquiry concluded that Iran was responsible for the “physical violence” that led to Amini’s death.

Raisi is the second Iranian president to die in office. In 1981, a bomb blast killed President Mohammad Ali Rajai in the chaotic days after the Islamic Revolution.

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Associated Press writer Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Iran, contributed to this report.

News Source : apnews.com
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