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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

Millwall goalkeeper Sarkic dies at 26

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Carabao Cup Third Round - Wolverhampton Wanderers v Leeds United - Molineux Stadium, Wolverhampton, Britain - November 9, 2022 Wolverhampton Wanderers' Matija Sarkic celebrates after the match Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Boyers/File photo

Millwall and Montenegro goalkeeper Matija Sarkic died on Saturday at the age of 26, the Championship club confirmed.

Sarkic fell ill in his home country while on international duty. Montenegrin daily newspaper Vijesti reported Sarkic died in an apartment in Budva early in the morning.

“Everyone at the club sends their love and condolences to Matija’s family and friends at this immensely sad time,” Millwall said in a statement.

“The club will make no further comment at this time and asks that the privacy of Matija’s family is respected.”

“Our dear Matija, we will miss you and your cheerful spirit, your work ethic and your great defending,” the Montenegro Football Association (FSCG) said in a statement, describing Sarkic as an “always smiling guy”.

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“On behalf of European football, our deepest condolences go to Matija’s friends, family and everybody who knew him. Rest in peace, Matija,” governing body UEFA said in a statement.

Sarkic made nine saves in Montenegro’s 2-0 defeat to Belgium in a friendly last Wednesday and was named man of the match for his outstanding performance.

Born in Grimsby, England, Sarkic played for Aston Villa and Belgian side Anderlecht at youth level. He made 33 appearances for Millwall after joining in August 2023 from Premier League side Wolverhampton Wanderers.

-Reuters

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Former Arsenal and Everton striker Campbell dies at 54

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Arsenal striker Kevin Campbell (R) is challenged by Hartlepool United's Phil Gilchrist during their League Cup second round second leg match at Highbury in London October 5, 1994. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez/File Photo

Former Arsenal, Everton and Nottingham Forest striker and soccer commentator Kevin Campbell has died at the age of 54.

British media said he had been in hospital for two weeks before his death was announced on Saturday.

“We are devastated to learn that our former striker Kevin Campbell has died after a short illness,” Arsenal said on social media. “Kevin was adored by everyone at the club.”

The London-born Campbell made his senior debut at Arsenal in 1988 and spent seven years at the club including two loan spells. He was part of the Arsenal side that won the English first division league in 1990-91, the FA Cup in 1992-93 and the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1993-94.

He joined Forest in 1995, where he spent three years, before moving to Everton in 1999 for a six-year spell. Campbell scored 45 Premier League goals for Everton, becoming their fifth highest goalscorer in the competition and their first ever Black captain.

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“Not just a true Goodison Park hero and icon of the English game but an incredible person as well — as anyone who ever met him will know,” Everton posted on X.

-Reuters

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NFF shocked, saddened by Domo Okara’s death

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The Nigeria Football Federation has described as shocking and very sad, the death on Saturday of Head Coach of Bayelsa Queens Football Club, Domo Okara.

“We are shocked and saddened beyond words. In all sincerity, we are still trying to process the report. I have spoken to a lot of people who said they interacted with him days earlier and he was hale and hearty. This is a very sorrowful development.

“Okara was one of the pillars of women football coaching in the country. Indeed, it is a period of mourning for the women’s game in our country because the man was more than a coach. He was a mentor, a leader and an inspiration to many. We pray that God will give him eternal rest and also grant the immediate family, his friends, Bayelsa Queens FC family and Nigeria football the fortitude to bear this sudden and big loss,” NFF General Secretary, Dr. Mohammed Sanusi, said on Sunday.

Domo Okara, who led Bayelsa Queens to win the Nigeria Women Premier League title in 2022 and also won the Federation Cup with the team the following year, was reported to have died suddenly on Saturday morning.

He led the team from Yenagoa to win the bronze medals at the 2nd edition of the CAF Women’s Champions League competition in Morocco – the only Nigerian team to have achieved that feat.

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