TEHRAN, Dec 20: Top Iranian religious leader Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri has died, his office said on Sunday. He was 87.
Mr Montazeri, a fierce critic of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, died of illness on Saturday night and is set to be buried on Monday, said his office in the city of Qom, where he had been based for several years.
“He was diabetic and had been using insulin for years ... He had also some lung problems and asthma. In fact, he was suffering from several diseases,” his doctor told state television.
According to the opposition website Rahesabz.net, opposition supporters held gatherings to mourn the cleric in various parts of Tehran.
Mr Montazeri is to be buried in a shrine in Qom, his office said.
Once designated as the successor to the founder of the 1979 Islamic revolution, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, Mr Montazeri came out in bold support of the Iranian opposition when it rejected the re-election of Mr Ahmadinejad.
Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei offered condolences to his family although Mr Montazeri was also critical of him.
“He was an accomplished theologian and a prominent teacher who spent a large part of his life for Imam’s (Khomeini’s) cause,” Mr Khamenei said in a statement carried by state television’s website.
Mr Montazeri had long been critical of the concentration of power in the hands of the supreme leader and called for changes to the constitution which he helped draw up after the revolution, to limit the leader’s authority.
Mr Montazeri had often criticised Mr Ahmadinejad over his domestic and foreign policies.
He had called for direct talks between Tehran and Washington to avert conflict over Iran’s programme of uranium enrichment.
He described the 1979 seizure of the US embassy in Tehran as a ‘mistake’ even though he said he had approved of the move at the time.
Mr Montazeri, one of the main architects of the Islamic republic, was a student and close ally of Mr Khomeini, whom he was set to succeed. But he developed differences in the late 1980s after he became too openly critical of political and cultural restrictions.—AFP