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Iran helicopter crash: Mohammad Mokhber becomes acting president after Raisi's death

Iran helicopter crash: Mohammad Mokhber becomes acting president after Raisi's death

 


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (UAE) Iranian President Ebrahim RaisiThe country's foreign minister and several other officials were found dead on Monday, hours after their helicopter crashed in a foggy mountainous region of the northwestern country, state media reported.

The clash comes as the Middle East remains unresolved from Israel-Hamas warduring which Raisi, who was 63, under Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei launched an unprecedented drone and missile attack on Israel just last month.

Khamenei announced on Monday that Iran's first vice president, Mohammad Mokhber, will serve as the country's acting president until elections are held.

During Raisis' tenure in office, Iran enriched uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels, further escalating tensions with the West as Tehran also supplied drones with bombs to Russia for its war in Ukraine and armed militia groups throughout the region.

Meanwhile, Iran has faced years of mass protests against its Shiite theocracy over its ailing economy and women's rights, making the moment all the more sensitive for Tehran and the country's future.

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

In this photo provided by Moj News Agency, rescue teams are seen near the crash site of the helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Varzaghan in northwestern Iran, 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 on Iran's border with Azerbaijan after President Raisi and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev inaugurated the Qiz Qalasi dam, or Castel of Girl in Azeri, 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 on Iran's border with Azerbaijan after President Raisi and his Azerbaijani counterpart Ilham Aliyev inaugurated the Qiz Qalasi dam, or Castel of Girl in Azeri, Iran. , Sunday, May 19, 2024. (Ali Hamed Haghdoust/IRNA via AP)

Among the dead was an Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, 60. The helicopter was also carrying the governor of Iran's East Azerbaijan province, a senior cleric from Tabriz, three crew members and a Revolutionary Guard official, state news agency IRNA reported. IRNA said the crash killed a total of eight people, including three crew members, aboard the Bell helicopter, which Iran bought in the early 2000s.

Planes in Iran face shortages of parts, often flying without safety checks against the backdrop of Western sanctions. Because of this, former Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tried to blame the United States for the fall in an interview on Monday.

One of the main culprits of yesterday's tragedy is the United States, which … embargoed the sale of aircraft and aviation parts to Iran and does not allow the people of Iran to enjoy good aviation facilities, Zarif said. These will be recorded on the list of US crimes against the Iranian people.

State television gave no immediate reason for this the accident that happened in Iran's East Azerbaijan province.

The United States has yet to publicly comment on Raisis' death. Ali Bagheri Kani, a nuclear negotiator for Iran, will serve as the country's foreign minister, state TV said.

Early Monday morning, Turkish authorities released what they described as drone footage showing what appeared to be a desert fire that they suspected was the wreckage of the helicopter. Coordinates listed in the footage put the fire about 20 kilometers (12 miles) south of the Azerbaijan-Iran border, on the side of a steep mountain.

Footage released by IRNA early Monday showed what the agency described as the crash site, along a steep valley in a green mountain range. The soldiers speaking in the local Azeri language said: Here he is, we found him.

Condolences began pouring in from neighbors and allies after Iran confirmed there were no survivors from the crash. Pakistan declared a day of mourning and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a post on X that his country stands with Iran in this time of grief. The leaders of Egypt and Jordan also offered condolences, as did Syrian President Bashar Assad. Lebanon and Syria declared three days of mourning.

Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev said he and his government were deeply shocked that Raisi was returning on Sunday after traveling to Iran's border with Azerbaijan to inaugurate a dam with Aliyev when the crash occurred.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and China's Xi Jinping sent their condolences. Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a statement released by the Kremlin, described Rais as a true friend of Russia.

Khamenei, who had himself asked the public to pray on Sunday night, stressed that the Iranian government's business will continue no matter what.

Under the Iranian constitution, Iran's first vice president takes over if the president dies, with Khamenei's consent, and new presidential elections are to be called within 50 days. Khamenei's condolence message on Monday for Raisis' death declared five days of public mourning and acknowledged that Mokhber had assumed the role of acting president.

Mokhber had already started receiving calls from foreign officials and governments in Raisis' absence, state media reported.

An emergency meeting of Iran's cabinet was held as state media made the announcement on Monday morning. Then the cabinet issued a statement promising that it will follow the Raisis path and that with the help of God and the people, there will be no problem with the management of the country.

or the hard line that previously guided the country's judiciaryRaisi 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 Raisis' death, the only other person suggested so far has been Mojtaba Khameini, the supreme leader's 55-year-old son. However, some have raised concerns about a family member taking over the position for only the third time since 1979, particularly after the Islamic Revolution overthrew the shah's hereditary Pahlavi monarchy.

The President won Iran's 2021 presidential election, a vote that saw the lowest turnout in the history of Islamic republics. Raisi has been sanctioned by the US 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 near-weapons-grade levels and thwarts international inspections. Iran has armed Russia in its war against Ukraine, as well as launched a massive drone and missile attack on Israel amid its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It has also continued to arm proxy groups in the Middle East, such as Yemen's Houthi rebels and Lebanon's Hezbollah.

Meanwhile, mass protests in the country have been raging for years. The most recent includes the 2022 death of Mahsa Amini, a woman who had been arrested earlier for allegedly not wearing a hijab, or headscarf, as required by the authorities. The months-long security crackdown that followed the demonstrations killed more than 500 people and saw over 22,000 arrested.

In March, a United Nations investigative panel found 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 following the country's Islamic Revolution.

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

Sources

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