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The unfinished shrine of Ayatollah Khomeini

TEHRAN, June 2 (AFP) - The shrine of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, destined to become one of the world's greatest centres of pilgrimage for Shiite Moslems, remains unfinished a decade after the death of Iran's "supreme leader."

A huge panel across the entrance welcomes the visitor with a quotation from the Imam Khomeini, reading: "We shall resist to the last drop of our blood for the sake of the greatness of the word Allah."

Ceremonies will be held at the site, 13 kilometers (eight miles) south of Tehran on the road leading to the holy city of Qom, for the 10th anniversary of Khomeini's death on June 4, 1989, at the age of 89.

The shrine itself is surmounted by a central dome, now covered with gilt paint, but later to be overlaid in gold leaf.

With its four surrounding minarets, it dominates the huge complex bordering the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery, resting place of thousands of "martyrs" of the 1979 Islamic Revolution and the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war.

Four more domes still under scaffolding sit atop a cultural and Islamic study centre, itself still in the process of construction.

In the square outside the mosque, souvenir sellers wait around hopefully for visitors -- few and far between except on religious holidays and at weekends.

Men and women file through two separate entrances, and find themselves in an immense marble hall of some 10,000 square meters (107,000 square feet).

The Imam and his son Ahmad are laid to rest inside a modest shrine inside the hall.

Thousands of bank notes bearing Khomeini's picture litter the floor, where the faithful have slid them through the iron lattice work that surrounds the tombs.

Ten years ago, between five and 10 million Iranians thronged to the Behesht-e-Zahra cemetery to attend Khomenei's funeral.

The ceremony was delayed several hours because the helicopter bringing the body was prevented from landing by the frenzied crowds.

Today, young girls born at the time of Khomeini's death dart cheerfully around the shrine.

"We love him," says one 10-year-old. "He opened the road to peace and taught the principles of life."

Shahnaz, 18, wearing an all-enveloping chador, sits at the base of a pillar in the immense hall, chatting with a friend. The metal structures of the as yet unfinished ceiling are visible far above her head. She comes every day.

"Being here makes me feel good," she explains.

The walls and pillars are draped with black banners bearing quotations by the leader. Close to the area reserved for official guests during ceremonies, a portrait of Khomeini, with his black turban and white beard, looks sternly out, next to one of his successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"The Imam said that after him, there would be nobody like him, and I believe that," says a young boy, who nevertheless expressed enthusiastic support for Khomeini's successor.

"If everyone, leftists and rightists, would let themselves be inspired by his ideas and words, then everything would be fine," he adds.

On the reverse side of the panel that hangs over the entrance, the departing visitor leaves with a final thought from the Imam.

"Whether I am among you or not, I beg you not to allow the revolution to fall into the hands of those who are not from among us."


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