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President of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi confirmed dead in helicopter crash

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President of Iran, Ebrahim Raisi confirmed dead in helicopter crash

Iranian State media have confirmed the death of President Ebrahim Raisi after the helicopter he was travelling in crashed in poor weather in an eastern province.

The reports came after rescuers from the Iranian Red Crescent said they had found the wreckage of the helicopter, which was also carrying the country’s foreign minister and other officials, and that there was “no sign of life”.

The state-run IRNA news agency reported that rescue teams fought through dense fog, blizzards and mountainous terrain to reach the wreckage in East Azerbaijan province early on Monday, but state television gave no immediate cause for the crash.

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With Raisi were Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian, the governor of East Azerbaijan province and other officials and bodyguards.

“President Raisi’s helicopter was completely burned in the crash … unfortunately, all passengers are feared dead,” the Reuters news agency reported, citing an unnamed Iranian official.

Raisi, 63, was elected president on his second attempt in 2021, and since taking office, has overseen a tightening of morality laws, a bloody crackdown on antigovernment protests triggered by the death in custody of 22-year-old woman Mahsa Amini, and taken a tougher approach to nuclear talks with world powers.

Last month, he ordered an unprecedented drone-and-missile attack on Israel, following an alleged Israeli strike on Iran’s consulate in Damascus which killed 13 people including a top commander and his deputy, Al-Jazeera reported.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power in Iran, had earlier sought to reassure Iranians, some of whom turned out to pray for Raisi’s wellbeing, saying there would be no disruption to state affairs.

Raisi was travelling home to Tehran when state television said his helicopter made a “hard landing” near Jolfa, a city on the border with Azerbaijan, some 600km (375 miles) northwest of the Iranian capital. Later, state media put the crash location farther east near the village of Uzi, but details remained contradictory.

Earlier on Monday, Turkish authorities released what they described as drone footage showing what appeared to be a fire in the wilderness that they “suspected to be [the] wreckage of [a] helicopter”. The coordinates listed in the footage put the fire some 20km (12 miles) south of the Azerbaijan-Iranian border on the side of a steep mountain.

Footage released by the IRNA showed what the agency described as the crash site, across a steep valley in a green mountain range. Soldiers speaking in the local Azeri language said: “There it is, we found it.”

Shortly after, state TV in an on-screen scrolling text, said: “There is no sign of life from people on board.” It did not elaborate, but the semiofficial Tasnim news agency showed rescuers using a small drone to fly over the site, with them speaking among themselves saying the same thing. The footage showed the tail of the helicopter and burnt debris all around it.

Under the Iranian Constitution, if a president is confirmed dead, Iran’s vice first president takes over and a new presidential election would be called within 50 days.

First Vice President Mohammad Mokhber already had begun receiving calls from officials and foreign governments in Raisi’s absence, state media reported.

Raisi, a hardliner who formerly led the country’s judiciary, is viewed as a protege of 85-year-old Khamenei.

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