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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi killed in helicopter crash

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Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi attends a meeting with Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev on the Azerbaijan-Iran border, May 19, 2024. Iran's Presidency/WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Handout via REUTERS

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, a hardliner long seen as a potential successor to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was killed in a helicopter crash in mountainous terrain near the Azerbaijan border, officials and state media said on Monday.

The charred wreckage of the helicopter which crashed on Sunday carrying Raisi and Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian was found early on Monday after an overnight search in blizzard conditions.

“President Raisi, the foreign minister and all the passengers in the helicopter were killed in the crash,” a senior Iranian official told Reuters, asking not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Raisi’s death was later confirmed in a statement on social media by Vice President Mohsen Mansouri and on state television.

State TV reported that images from the site showed the aircraft slammed into a mountain peak, although there was no official word on the cause of the crash.

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State news agency IRNA said Raisi was flying in a U.S.-made Bell 212 helicopter.

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.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who holds ultimate power with a final say on foreign policy and Iran’s nuclear programme, had earlier sought to reassure Iranians, saying there would be no disruption to state affairs.

PRAYERS, SEARCHES

Rescue teams fought blizzards and difficult terrain through the night to reach the wreckage in the early hours of Monday.

“With the discovery of the crash site, no signs of life have been detected among the helicopter’s passengers,” the head of Iran’s Red Crescent, Pirhossein Kolivand, told state TV.

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Earlier, the national broadcaster had stopped all regular programming to show prayers being held for Raisi across the country.

Video showed a rescue team, wearing bright jackets and head torches, huddled around a GPS device as they searched a pitch-black mountainside on foot in a blizzard.

Several countries had expressed concern and offered assistance.

The White House said U.S. President Joe Biden had been briefed on reports about the crash. China said it was deeply concerned. The European Union offered emergency satellite mapping technology.

HARDLINER, POSSIBLE SUCCESSOR TO KHAMENEI

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.

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Since Iran’s ally Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, provoking Israel’s assault on Gaza, conflagrations involving Iran-aligned groups have erupted throughout the Middle East.

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 holds decision-making power 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 powers including 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.

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Raisi had been at the Azerbaijani border on Sunday to inaugurate the Qiz-Qalasi Dam, a joint project. Azerbaijan’s President Ilham Aliyev, who said he had bid a “friendly farewell” to Raisi earlier in the day, offered assistance in the rescue.

-Reuters

Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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OBITUARY

CAF commiserates with  family of the late Egyptian player, Ahmed Refaat

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The Confédération Africaine de Football has conveyed its condolences to the family of Ahmed Refaat, saying that it is saddened by the news of the sudden passing of the Egyptian player.

 Ahmed Refaat, 31,  who played for Morden Future in the Egyptian Premier League, suffered cardiac arrest last March died on Saturday, 6th  July 2024.

CAF President, Dr Patrice Motsepe conveys heartfelt condolences to the family and also to  Egyptian Football Association and the entore Egyptian Football family.

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OBITUARY

Egypt international Refaat dies aged 31

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Egypt international Ahmed Refaat has died aged 31, his club Modern Sport said on Saturday, following a heart attack during an Egyptian Premier League match in March.

Refaat was placed in an intensive care unit on March 11 after collapsing in the 88th minute of Modern Future’s league match against Al-Ittihad Alexandria.

The striker, who was fitted with a pacemaker, was discharged a month later and continued to receive treatment.

“Modern Future FC announces the death of Ahmed Refaat, first team and Egyptian national team player, as a result of a serious deterioration in his health,” the club said in a statement.

“He was transferred to the hospital to die after an uphill journey of struggle following the health crisis that occurred on March 11 2024.”

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Egypt captain and Liverpool forward Mohamed Salah paid tribute to his teammate.

“May God continue to bless his family and all his loved ones,” Salah wrote on X.

-Reuters

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OBITUARY

 Nigeria loses former sports minister

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A former Minister of Youth and Sports and one-time Military Administrator of Benue State, Air Vice Marshal Adebayo Lawal (retd.), has died at the age of 83.

The Punch reports that the  retired military officer passed away in his sleep in the early hours of Sunday, June 23, 2024, at his home.

The news was confirmed to The Punch by his daughter, Mrs. Yinka Enahoro, and corroborated by the Sergeant At Arms at the National Assembly, Air Commodore Sani Zakari (retd.).

Zakari stated, “AVM Frank Ajobena (retd.) further informed us that AVM Bayo Lawal passed on in his sleep at the early hours of Sunday, Jun 23, 2024.”

Born on September 14, 1941, in Offa, Kwara State, Lawal was a pioneer officer of the Nigerian Air Force, which he joined in 1963.

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He received his training as a military pilot in West Germany, graduating in 1964.

Throughout his illustrious career, Lawal held numerous high-ranking positions within the NAF.

These included Commander of NAF Port Harcourt (1969-1970), Commander of Enugu Air Force Base (1970-72), and two stints as Commander of NAF Kano (1972-1973 and 1975-1977). He also served as Air Officer Commanding HQ Tactical Air Command NAF Makurdi from 1977 to 1978.

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