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Copter carrying Iranian Prez Raisi crashes, rescue op on

Foreign minister on board too | Bad weather hits search

Copter carrying Iranian Prez Raisi crashes, rescue op on

The copter carrying Ebrahim Raisi, which later crashed, takes off near Azerbaijan border. Reuters



Dubai, May 19

A helicopter carrying Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his foreign minister crashed on Sunday as it was crossing mountain terrain in heavy fog, an Iranian official said, adding that rescuers were struggling to reach the incident site.

The official said the lives of Raisi and minister Hossein Amirabdollahian were “at risk following the helicopter crash”, which happened on their way back from a visit to the border with Azerbaijan in Iran’s northwest.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi

“We are still hopeful, but information coming from the crash site is very concerning,” said the official on the condition of anonymity.

Iranian state media said bad weather was the cause of the crash and was complicating rescue efforts. The chief of staff of Iran’s army ordered all resources of the army and the elite Revolutionary Guard to be put to use in search and rescue operations.

“It is dark and it has started raining, but the search continues. Rescue teams have reached the area, but the rain has created mud, making the search difficult,” a source said.

State TV had earlier stopped all its regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country and in a corner of the screen, live coverage of rescue teams deployed on foot in the mountainous area in heavy fog. The rescue teams were expected to reach the probable site of the crash later in the day.

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.

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.

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 has the final say 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 Rouhani and a nuclear deal negotiated with 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. — Reuters

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