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Mourners pay respect to Rafsanjani – Kuwait, Arab states commiserate over ex-Iran president

Mourners gather around the coffin of former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani during a mourning ceremony at Jamaran mosque in Tehran, on Jan 9. Rafsanjani died in hospital on Jan 8 after suffering a heart attack. Rafsanjani, who was 82, was a pivotal figure in the foundation of the Islamic republic in 1979, and served as president from 1989 to 1997. (AFP)

TEHRAN, Iran, Jan 9, (Agencies): Mourners from all walks of life in Iran — from the country’s president to passers-by on the street — paid their respects on Monday to the late Iranian leader Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani following his death over the weekend at the age of 82. President Hassan Rouhani and his administration visited the mosque in northern Tehran where Rafsanjani’s body was brought. Mourners, including Rafsanjani’s family members, wept at the sight of his coffin, reaching out to touch it. Newspapers in Iran published frontpage photographs of Rafsanjani, who died Sunday after suffering a heart attack, while state television aired archival clips of his comments and speeches. The country is observing three days of mourning, and Rafsanjani’s funeral is set for Tuesday. At the start of a parliament session Monday, parliament speaker Ali Larijani paid tribute to the late leader, describing Rafsanjani as “a man for hard days whose name has been always been tied to the revolution and it will always be so.”

However, political analysts believe Rafsanjani’s absence will put Rouhani under more pressures by hard-liners. Tehran-based analyst Hamid Reza Shokouhi said Rouhani and reformists in general have lost a powerful supporter in the next presidential election. “Now, with about six months to the next presidential election, there are so many pressures on Rouhani’s administration,” Shokouhi said. “Rafsanjani could manage it, if he were still alive.” A Tehran-based diplomatic analyst, Hassan Hanizadeh, told The Associated Press that Rafsanjani left a big vacuum in the Iranian field of diplomacy.

During visits to Tehran, many foreign envoys met with Rafsanjani to discuss regional and internationals issues. “Over the past 37 years, Rafsanjani always tried to pave the way for better ties with regional countries and the West,” said Hanizadeh, adding that he hopes “moderate figures will continue his policies.” Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif also told Iranian media that “Rafsanjani’s viewpoints were always roadpaving for us in the foreign policy field.” Tehran residents also expressed their grief at the loss of Rafsanjani.

“I don’t know who is going to fill his place. He kept Iran safe from hard-liners for so long,” said Maziar Rezaei, a real estate agent. Zahra Qorbani, a tailor, said she was worried about her children’s future. She described the late leader as a “man who always tried to fix Iran’s relations with neighbors and the world.” The life of Rafsanjani, known as a political survivor, spanned the trials of Iran’s modern history, from serving as a close aide to Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini during the 1979 Islamic Revolution to acting as a go-between in the Iran-Contra deal. He helped found Iran’s contested nuclear program, but later backed the accord with world powers to limit it in exchange for sanctions relief.

Rafsanjani served as president from 1989 to 1997, during a period of significant changes in Iran. At the time, the country was struggling to rebuild its economy after a devastating 1980s war with Iraq, while also cautiously allowing some wider freedoms, as seen in Iran’s highly regarded film and media industry. His image, however, also had darker undertones. He was named by prosecutors in Argentina among Iranian officials suspected of links to a 1994 bombing of a Jewish center in Buenos Aires that killed 85 people. Some Iranian reformers accused him of involvement in the slaying of liberals and dissidents during his presidency – charges that he denied and that were never pursued by Iranian authorities.

Meanwhile, four Gulf states sent condolences on Monday for former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, signalling appreciation for a pragmatist who sought regional detente, but there was no immediate word from Riyadh, Tehran’s main Gulf Arab adversary.

The heads of state of Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) expressed condolences after the death on Sunday of Rafsanjani, 82, a founder of the Islamic Republic and a powerful pragmatic influence in Iran’s factionalised politics. Rafsanjani’s funeral will be held in Tehran on Tuesday. Iran has announced three days of mourning, including a public holiday on Tuesday, for Rafsanjani, who was president from 1989 to 1997 and a key fi gure in the 1979 revolution that overthrew the Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi.

Rivalry between Iran and Gulf Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, has helped to fuel a decade of violence and turmoil across the Middle East. In Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Yemen, the two sides back sectarian proxy forces that tussle for influence or are openly at war.

But Rafsanjani routinely called for improved ties with Gulf Arab states, was known to have good relations with senior Saudi officials and was seen as a key figure who could have resolved rising tensions between the regional rivals in coming years. Writing on his official Twitter account, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash described Rafsanjani as “one of the voices of political realism and moderation”.

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