Published: 09:29, May 20, 2024 | Updated: 20:27, May 20, 2024
Iran's leader appoints 1st VP as acting president
By Jan Yumul in Hong Kong
This frame grab from video released by the Iranian Red Crescent on May 20, 2024 shows a screen display showing a video showing the crash site of the missing helicopter carrying President Ebrahim Raisi in East Azerbaijan province. (HANDOUT / IRANIAN RED CRESCENT VIA AFP)

Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei on Monday appointed the country's First Vice- President Mohammad Mokhber as interim president following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash.

He made the remarks in a message extending condolences over the "martyrdom" of Raisi and his accompanying team's members, including Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, in a helicopter crash in the northwestern province of East Azarbaijan.

“Our honorable Raisi worked tirelessly. This bitter tragedy took place while he was serving the people,” Khamenei posted on X, formerly Twitter.

Mokhber will cooperate with the heads of the Iranian parliament and judiciary to prepare the ground for the election of a new president within the next 50 days, Mehr reported

“The entire period that this great, self-sacrificing man held various responsibilities, both during his presidency and before that, he was totally dedicated to serving the people and Islam nonstop,” he wrote.

Khamenei announced five days of mourning and approved Mokhber to take over as interim president.

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Mokhber will cooperate with the heads of the Iranian parliament and judiciary to prepare the ground for the election of a new president within the next 50 days, Mehr reported.

Iran's cabinet also appointed Deputy Foreign Minister Ali Bagheri Kani as the head of the International Committee of Iran's Foreign Ministry following the death of Amir-Abdollahian, the Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) reported, citing Iran's Government Spokesman Ali Bahadori Jahromi.

Iran’s Guardian Council Spokesman Hadi Tahan-Nazif said that according to the country’s constitution, in the event of the president’s death the vice-president would take over as interim president subject to the supreme leader’s approval.

This grab taken from handout video footage released by the Iranian Red Cescent on May 20, 2024 shows rescuers recovering bodies at the site of President Ebrahim Raisi's helicopter crash in a fog-shrouded mountainous area of northwest Iran. republic. (HANDOUT / IRANIAN RED CRESCENT VIA AFP)

Elsewhere, messages of support and sympathy continued to pour in after the helicopter crash. Six other passengers and crew, including East Azarbaijan's Governor Malek Rahmati, and the Friday prayers leader Tabriz Mohammad Ali Ale-Hasehem also lost their lives, the IRIB TV reported.

Raisi’s immediate predecessor Hassan Rouhani expressed his grief on the “martyrdom of the president”, the IRNA reported. Former presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Mohammad Khatami also conveyed their condolences over the tragic incident.

After official confirmation of Raisi’s death, Vice-President Mokhber held a meeting with the heads of the country’s legislative and judicial branches to discuss their continued coordination with the executive branch led by the supreme leader to solve the country’s problems, the IRNA reported on May 20.

The meeting was attended by Parliamentary Speaker Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf and Gholam-Hossein Mohseni-Eje’i, the judiciary chief.

A helicopter carrying Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi takes off, near the Iran-Azerbaijan border, May 19, 2024. (PHOTO / WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY VIA REUTERS)

The tragedy occurred while Raisi was on his way from Khoda Afarin county, where he had attended the inauguration ceremony of a storage dam, to the provincial capital Tabriz for the inauguration of a petrochemical complex.

Media reports said images show the helicopter crashed into a mountain peak in Varzaqan county, some 670 km away from the capital Tehran. State news agency IRNA said Raisi was flying in a US-made Bell 212 helicopter.

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Fog and rain had hampered the search operation before rescuers spotted the helicopter earlier in the day. Rescuers from the Iranian Red Crescent Society, police, army, and Islamic Revolution Guards Corps were sent to the scene. 

Low temperatures and rainfall caused further difficulties for their work, Iranian Vice-President for Executive Affairs Mohsen Mansouri said.

This grab taken from handout video footage released by the IRINN Iranian state television network on May 19, 2024 shows Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi (left) with an unidentified member of his delegation on board a helicopter in the Jolfa region of the western province of East Azerbaijan.(PHOTO / IRINN VIA AFP)

Raisi was traveling in a convoy of three helicopters when the one carrying him lost communication with the other two approximately 30 minutes after takeoff.

The two other helicopters immediately began a search of the area for about 20 minutes, but were later compelled to make an emergency landing due to thick fog and other weather conditions, Mansouri noted.

He said drones were being used to search the region as the search by land or other aerial means was difficult due to the mountainous landscape and bad weather conditions.

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Iranian people gathered in holy sites, including the Imam Reza holy shrine in the northeastern city of Mashhad, to pray for the president and others onboard.

People pray for the well-being of Iran's President Ebrahim Raisi following the crash of a helicopter carrying him, in Tehran, Iran May 19, 2024. (PHOTO / WEST ASIA NEWS AGENCY VIA REUTERS)

Regional countries including Türkiye, Azerbaijan, Iraq and Saudi Arabia have voiced concern over the incident and readiness to assist in search and rescue efforts.

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Türkiye on Sunday evening sent a drone to join in the search and rescue operations for the helicopter on the request from the Iranian side through the foreign ministry, the Turkish Defense Minister said in a statement.

The Saudi Foreign Ministry stressed that the kingdom stands by Iran in these difficult circumstances and is ready to provide any assistance the Iranian authorities need.

With Xinhua inputs