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Mourners pack Tehran to grieve Iran general Soleimani

Clutching portraits of their hero, the crowd gathered at Tehran University before supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei presided over prayers for the slain general.

FILE: Protesters shout slogans against the United States and Israel as they hold posters with the image of top Iranian commander Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike in Iraq, and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani during a demonstration in the Kashmiri town of Magam on 3 January 2020. Picture: AFP.

IRAN - Mourners packed the streets of Tehran on Monday for ceremonies to pay homage to top Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani, after he was killed in a US strike in Baghdad.

Clutching portraits of their hero, the crowd gathered at Tehran University before supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei presided over prayers for the slain general, AFP correspondents reported.

Soleimani, who spearheaded Iran's Middle East operations as commander of the Revolutionary Guards' Quds Force, was killed in a US drone strike Friday near Baghdad airport.

His assassination ratcheted up tensions between arch-enemies Tehran and Washington.

Iran said late Sunday it was further rolling back its commitments to a nuclear deal already in tatters since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from it in May 2018.

In freezing early morning temperatures, women in black walked alongside men holding up flags bearing the names of Shiite imams as they walked down Tehran's Enghelab (Revolution) Street towards the university.

"Down with USA," said a placard held up by a young woman wearing a black chadour.

The procession was broadcast live on state television, with screens bearing a black ribbon across the top left hand corner in a rare tribute.

Khamenei appeared to cry as he prayed over the flag-draped coffins containing the remains of Soleimani and five other "martyrs" killed in the strike.

The supreme leader was flanked by Soleimani's son, the slain general's replacement as Quds commander Esmail Qaani, President Hassan Rouhani, parliament speaker Ali Larijani and the Guards' top commander Major General Hossein Salami.

'CRUSHING RESPONSE'

People prayed together with Khamenei whose voice cracked as he spoke.

"We must give a crushing response," one of the mourners told AFP.

"We must target whatever military base they have in the region. We must attack all that are in the range of our missiles," said the 61-year-old businessman who gave his name as Afkhami.

The US drone attack that killed Soleimani was ordered by Trump, who said the Quds commander had been planning an "imminent" attack on American diplomats and forces in Iraq.

Mourners in Tehran formed a sea of black along Enghelab Street dotted with red Shiite flags and white signs.

One of the placards held aloft by a man read "#hard_revenge".

As they marched towards the university, a main artery of the Iranian capital, the mourners chanted "Death to America" and "Death to Israel" and waved flags of Iraq and Lebanon among others.

The procession comes after Soleimani's remains were returned to Iran on Sunday.

They were paraded through the streets of the southwestern city of Ahvaz before being taken to second city Mashhad, in the country's far northeast.

The Revolutionary Guards said the overwhelming number of mourners in Mashhad forced the cancellation of a ceremony that had been planned in Tehran on Sunday night.

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