TEHRAN – Hundreds of thousands of Iranians flocked on Tuesday to the University of Tehran, where the country’s supreme leader Ali Khamenei headed a sermon for the late former president of the Islamic Republic.
Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani died of a heart attack on Sunday.
The university district of Iran’s sprawling capital was cordoned off for the masses of mourners flowing down the central Tehran avenues.
Posters of the late former president alongside the former supreme leader Imam Khomeini topped the crowd.
Rafsanjani was widely considered Khomeini’s right-hand-man in the 1979 Islamic revolution that toppled the ancient regime, replacing the Shah with the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The throngs of protesters chanted calls for revolutionary resistance and praised the deceased.
Rafsanjani was twice president of Iran – his tenures spanning from 1989-1997 – and the cleric spent much of his political life within the trusted inner-circles of the supreme leader.
He served until his death as Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council, an administrative assembly that mediates relations between Iran’s parliament and the Guardian Council – a powerful 12-member organization created to safeguard and interpret the revolutionary Constitution.
Some members of the crowd could be heard chanting slogans used during the 2009 Green Movement – a nationwide youth movement that engulfed Iran following the controversial re-election of conservative Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Meanwhile, Khamenei headed to the university center to lead a sermon for the late cleric.
A funeral procession was to follow that service, said Hamzeh Jalili, spokesman for the Discernment Council.
At the request of his family, Rafsajani is due to be laid to rest at the mausoleum of the founder of the Islamic Republic south of the capital.
Authorities in Iran have declared three days of national mourning.
Speaking of Rafsanjani, Khamenei on Monday said “the loss of my companion of struggle, whose cooperation with me dated back 59 years, is difficult and overwhelming.”
Rafsanjani was regarded as a reformist conservative cleric, often diverging from the strict government line.
“The different opinions and interpretations at time in this long period could never entirely break up the friendship,” Khamenei added.