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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi killed in helicopter crash


Under the Islamic Republic’s constitution, a new presidential election must be held within 50 days.

Khamenei had earlier sought to reassure Iranians, saying there would be no disruption to state affairs.

The crash comes at a time of growing dissent within Iran over an array of political, social and economic crises. Iran’s clerical rulers face international pressure over Tehran’s disputed nuclear programme and its deepening military ties with Russia during the war in Ukraine.

Since Iran’s ally Hamas attacked Israel on October 7, provoking Israel’s assault on Gaza, conflagrations involving Iran-aligned groups have erupted throughout the Middle East.

A long “shadow war” between Iran and Israel broke into the open last month with tit-for-tat exchanges of drone and missile fire.

State media reported that images from the site showed the US-made Bell 212 helicopter slammed into a mountain peak, although there was no official word on the cause of the crash. The dead also included the governor of East Azerbaijan Province and a senior imam from Tabriz city.

“President Raisi, the foreign minister and all the passengers in the helicopter were killed in the crash,” a senior Iranian official had earlier told Reuters, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Iran’s President Ebrahim Raisi (left) with an unidentified member of his delegation on board his helicopter on Sunday. Photo: IRINN via AFP

An Israeli official told Reuters it was not involved in the crash. “It wasn’t us,” said the official, who requested anonymity.

The helicopter went down in Varzeqan region north of Tabriz, state news agency IRNA reported, as Raisi returned from an official visit to the border with Azerbaijan in Iran’s northwest.

Raisi, 63, was elected president in 2021, and since taking office has ordered a tightening of morality laws, overseen a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests and pushed hard in nuclear talks with world powers.

China’s President Xi Jinping on Monday paid tribute to Raisi, describing his “tragic death” as “a great loss to the Iranian people”.

Xi sent “sincere condolences” to the Iran’s first vice-president, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a press briefing.

“(Raisi’s) tragic death is a great loss to the Iranian people, and the Chinese people have lost a good friend,” Wang quoted Xi as saying.

The helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi taking off on Sunday. Photo: IRNA via AP

China is a close partner of Iran, its largest trade partner, and a top buyer of its sanctioned oil.

Messages of condolences also came from Iran’s regional neighbours including the leaders of Syria, Egypt, India, Iraq and Pakistan, as well as the European Union, Italy and Russia.

Iran-backed militant group Hamas, fighting Israeli forces in Gaza with Tehran’s support, issued a statement expressing sympathy to the Iranian people for “this immense loss.”

Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group and the Houthi rebels in Yemen also issued statements praising Raisi and mourning his death.

Meanwhile, the exiled opposition group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, described his death in a statement as a “monumental and irreparable strategic blow” to the Islamic Republic.

Rescue teams fought blizzards and difficult terrain through the night to reach the wreckage in the early hours of Monday.

Rescuers recovering bodies at the crash site. Photo: Iranian Red Crescent via AFP

“With the discovery of the crash site, no signs of life have been detected among the helicopter’s passengers,” the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, Pirhossein Kolivand, told state TV.

Earlier, the national broadcaster had stopped all regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country.

Video showed a rescue team, wearing bright jackets and head torches, huddled around a GPS device as they searched a pitch-black mountainside on foot in a blizzard.

Several countries, including China, had earlier expressed concern and offered assistance.

The White House said US President Joe Biden had been briefed on reports about the crash. The European Union offered emergency satellite mapping technology.

In Iran’s dual political system, split between the clerical establishment and the government, it is Raisi’s 85-year-old mentor Khamenei, supreme leader since 1989, who holds decision-making power on all major policies.

For years, many have seen Raisi as a strong contender to succeed Khamenei, who has endorsed Raisi’s main policies.

Raisi’s victory in a closely managed election in 2021 brought all branches of power under the control of hardliners, after eight years when the presidency had been held by pragmatist Hassan Rowhani and a nuclear deal negotiated with powers including Washington.

However, Raisi’s standing may have been dented by widespread protests against clerical rule and a failure to turn around Iran’s economy, hamstrung by Western sanctions.

Raisi had been at the Azerbaijani border on Sunday to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint project. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who said he had bid a “friendly farewell” to Raisi earlier in the day, had offered assistance in the rescue.



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