Iranian president killed in helicopter crash

Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister have died in a helicopter crash in north-west Iran, the country’s government confirmed on Monday. 

The helicopter disappeared on Sunday afternoon while flying over a steep and wooded region of Iran in rain and thick fog. The prospect of finding Raisi and the eight other passengers alive had gradually diminished during the night. The wreckage of the helicopter was found at dawn. 

Raisi had travelled on Sunday to the province of East Azerbaijan, where he inaugurated a dam on the border between the countries, accompanied by Azerbaijani president Ilham Aliev.

The others on board the helicopter were Foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, the governor of East Azerbaijan province, the region’s main imam, the president's head of security and three crew members.

Hardline cleric

Elected in 2021 in a ballot with little competition, the hardline cleric had been seen as one of the favourites to succeed the 85-year-old Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. “The hard-working and tireless President of the Iranian people (...) sacrificed his life for the nation,” the government said in a statement.

Under 63-year-old Raisi, Iranian relations have deteriorated with the West, which is particularly concerned about Tehran's nuclear programme. Negotiations to revive a nuclear deal with the US, among others, ended in deadlock.

His time in office was also dominated by anti-government protests that swept across Iran in 2022. The death in custody of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini sparked massive protests nationwide against repressive policies and the state system. Tens of thousands of protesters were detained and hundreds were killed.

'No disruption' to government

Since the 1979 revolution, the president has been appointed for four years, renewable once consecutively. Assisted by several vice-presidents, he is responsible for appointing and directing the council of ministers, as there is no post of prime minister in Iran.

The council of ministers met on Monday for an emergency meeting following Raisi's death. According to protocol, first vice president Mohammad Mokhber will take over leadership of the government, with elections to be held within 50 days. The government said in a statement that it would continue to operate “without disruption”.

Following the news of his death, the Palestinian militant organisation Hamas, an ally of the Islamic Republic, hailed his “support for the Palestinian resistance”. Indian prime minister Narendra Modi said on X he was “deeply saddened and shocked by the tragic demise” of Raisi and his nation “stands with Iran” during this “time of sorrow”.

Writing on X, European Council president Charles Michel expressed the EU's "sincere condolences for the death of President Raisi and Foreign Minister Abdollahian, as well as other members of their delegation and crew in a helicopter accident. Our thoughts go to the families."



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