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IRAN: Tens of thousands converge on Tehran shrine to commemorate the death of Ayatollah Khomeini

June 4, 2011 |  8:57 am

A1078110 Dressed in black, they came by the tens of thousands from near and far, pouring into the streets of southern Tehran and massing at the Khomeini Mausoleum to commemorate the 22nd anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of the Islamic Republic on Saturday.

“I’ve walked almost 24 hours from the holy city of Qom to get here,” a 36-year-old cleric and father of two, who had walked barefoot to the capital to pay his respects, told the Times. “I am a pilgrim of the late great Khomeini's holy shrine. I am ready to sacrifice myself and my family for sake of the revolution and the current supreme leader.”

The ceremony, an annual event, was marked by tight security and attended by a number of high-ranking Iranian political and military officials, including President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Khomenei’s successor, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who called for unity among ruling conservatives and rapprochement among rival political factions in a speech he delivered at the shrine. It was his second major call in the last 10 days to heal the rifts between Ahmadinejad and Khamenei’s own conservative political allies.

"In the country there are different political views," he was quoted as saying by Agence France-Presse.

Khamenei endorsed the government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which has come under heavy criticism in the past weeks from Khamenei’s allies. "The administration has been able to accomplish many great tasks, construct major infrastructure works ... which the people will see the outcome of these tasks in near future," he said.

Members of the hard-line conservative camp have lashed out at Ahmadinejad's Chief of Staff Esfandiar Rahim Mashaei, accusing him of leading a "deviant current" that aims to undermine the pillars of the Islamic Republic.

President Ahmadinejad himself was not on the list of Saturday’s speakers and delivered instead a speech at Khomenei's shrine on Friday night in which he repeated his loyalty to the supreme leader, a move interpreted by some observers that the Iranian president is becoming increasingly marginalized.

“As long as Mr. Ahmadinejad is in line with the supreme leader, we agree with him. So far he is doing well for the country,” the young cleric said.

In his speech, Khamenei said that the Iranian people, including the young generation, still follow Khomenei's path and ideals 32 years after the Islamic revolution, despite what he called dark conspiracies trying to bring down the Islamic revolution and its noble cause.

Khomeini was the leader of the 1979 Iranian Revolution which led to the overthrow of the Pahlavi monarchy.

-- Ramin Mostaghim in Tehran and Alexandra Sandels in Beirut

Photo: Tens of thousands of Iranians gathered at the Khomeini shrine in south Tehran on Saturday to mark the 22-year anniversary of the death of Ayatollah Khomeini. Credit: Fars News website