News & Views
Ailing Iranian leader cuts short speech at Khomeini mausoleum
TEHRAN, June 4 (AFP) - An ailing Ayatollah Ali Khamenei cut short for health reasons on Thursday a speech marking the ninth anniversary of the death of his predecessor as Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
"The doctors have not allowed me to speak any longer today," the 58-year-old Iranian leader told a gathering of tens of thousands of people at the southern Tehran mausoleum of the leader of the Islamic Revolution.
During his brief speech, Khamenei appeared tired and visibly ill.
Before his address, Khomeini's grandson, Hassan Khomeini, urged the crowd to "listen carefully" because Khamenei was "suffering from a minor illness." He did not specify what was ailing the Iranian leader.
In his speech, Khamenei praised his predecessor as spiritual guide of the Islamic Republic and said the "people remain faithful to the imam and to his path."
"Today, the people and all the leaders of the regime, the government, the parliament, and the judiciary are loyal to Islam and the Islamic revolution," he said, singling out Iranian youth as the "army of the revolution."
Tens of thousands of Iranians from around the country and hundreds of foreign guests and diplomats gathered at the tomb in Behesht-e-Zahra to pay homage to Khomeini.
This year's ceremony was notable for the presence of political and religious leaders of all tendancies, including moderate President Mohammad Khatami, conservative parliamentary speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri and former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, and for the special place reserved for Khomeini's grandson.
In a long and particularly militant speech, Hassan Khomeini rejected "all possibility of relations with the United States and recognition" of Israel.
"Normalization with the United States is excluded and the struggle against Israel is not simply a slogan but the very basis of the (Islamic) revolution," Khmomeini's grandson said.
The crowd of men and black-veiled women, separated in the overflowing mausoleum, shouted slogans supporting the regime and hostile to the United States and Israel.
Iran's leaders seemed determined to show a unified front following a series of political crises during the last months which have shaken the regime and pitted conservative and reformist elements against one another.
Increased security was evident at the ceremony and in Tehran following a series of attacks on Tuesday claimed by Iran's main armed opposition group, the People's Mujahedeen, on an Islamic court and the headquarters here of the elite Revolutionary Guards.
On Wednesday evening, Khatami called on Iranians to work for more "political transparency" and to "come together around the Guide (Khamenei)."
"We must all work hard to assure there is more political transparency" in the country," the official news agency IRNA quoted him as saying in a speech at the mausoleum.
"Everyone must express his political views clearly and in all openness without hiding behind personalities such as the Guide (Khamenei)," he said, adding that the regime will not tolerate "attempts at subversion."
Khomeini took power in February 1979 after the fall of the pro-Western Shah and died on June 3, 1989. Thursday's commemoration was conducted in accordance with the Iranian calender.
Khamenei, who had served as president since 1981, became supreme guide in August 1989 following Khomeini's death. The guide is also the armed forces chief and chooses the head of the judiciary, among other top posts, and has the right to intervene personally in all areas of public life.
The commemoration this year of Khomeini's death has focused on the younger generation born after the 1979 Islamic revolution and events were organized in cities around the country.
Organisers called on the Iranian population to turn out in massive numbers to show their "loyalty to the founding father" of the Islamic Republic.