Iran remembers Khomeini amid political tensions

School bells pealed as trains and ships throughout Iran sounded their horns yesterday, marking the 1979 return from exile of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who triggered a revolution that spawned an Islamic state that is now mired in a political crisis.

The clamour, at precisely 9.33am, marked the moment that Khomeini's chartered Air France 747 touched down at Tehran's Mehrabad airport on February 1, 1979.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other senior Iranian officials paid homage to the cleric at his golden-domed mausoleum in southern Tehran.

The celebrations that kicked off yesterday will climax on February 11, the 31st anniversary of the fall of the US-backed shah who had ruled the country for nearly four decades, but who fled two weeks before Khomeini's return.

The charismatic cleric assumed the role of Iran's supreme leader, which he held until his death in 1989.

During his conservative rule, Iran became embroiled in a brutal conflict with Saddam Hussein's neighbouring Iraq. Over a million people were killed on both sides during the war. Khomeini had also backed students who stormed the US embassy in Tehran in November 1979 and took its personnel hostage for 444 days, prompting Washington to sever ties with the country.

 

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