The funeral procession in Qom which was joined by tens of thousands of Iranians for dissident cleric Grand Ayatollah Husayn- Ali Montazeri acquired overtones of a protest gathering as many in the crowd showed their opposition to the Iranian establishment.

Opposition leaders Mir-Husain Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi were present at the funeral, along with their “green” movement supporters, who had gathered in conspicuous numbers. Ayatollah Montazeri had heavily criticised the results of Iran’s disputed presidential elections held on June 12. Footage posted on the Internet showed crowds beating their chests in mourning, as Ayatollah Montazeris body was circled around the city’s main shrine. It was later buried in nearby cemetery alongside his son, who had died soon after the revolution.

Web images also showed massive crowds gathered in mourning at Najafabad, near the city of Isfahan. Some chanted: “Oppressed Montazeri, you are with God now.” Nobel Prize winner and legal luminary Shirin Ebadi described Ayatollah Montazeri as the “father of human rights”. She said she was “one of the millions of his followers and students”. “I learned from you that the silence of the oppressed is aiding the oppressor and that I should not remain quiet.” However, the crowds included pro-government supporters, who reportedly clashed with opposition backers.

Ayatollah Montazeri, a one-time ally of late Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and designated as his successor, fell out with the founder of the 1979 Islamic revolution in the mid-eighties. He played a key role in drafting the Iranian constitution, reconciling theological and democratic principles in it. However, in later years, he became a formidable critic of the establishment, and of current Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

However, on his passing, Ayatollah Khamenei praised him for dedicating “his life to the Islamic Revolution under the leadership of late Imam Khomeini”. IRNA quoted the Supreme Leader as saying “Ayatollah Montazeri was a brilliant instructor who taught many theologians”.

Authorities are keeping an eye for more protests on December 27, the seventh day of mourning, which coincides with the Ashura religious ceremonies.

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