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Khomeini dead

By
RALPH JOSEPH

ATHENS, Greece -- Iranian ruler Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, who led the overthrow of the shah and turned his nation into an anti-Western Islamic republic 10 years ago, died Saturday night, the official Tehran radio announced Sunday. He was 87.

His death came 11 days after surgery to stop internal bleeding, but no exact cause was given.

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A radio announcer, reading a statement attributed to Khomeini's son, Hojatoleslam Ahmed Khomeini, said the Iranian leader died Saturday night in a Tehran hospital.

The state-owned Islamic Republic News Agency, monitored in Athens, said Khomeini's body was 'transferred to a mortuary Saturday night after being washed and shrouded according to Islamic laws.' Khomeini was a leader of the Shiite branch of Islam.

The news agency also said the funeral for their spiritual leader would be held on Monday and urged 'mourning people not to rush' toward a mosque in Jamaran, a suburb northof Tehran where the Ayatollah lived for nine years.

Programming on Tehran radio went silent about two hours before the announcement at 7 a.m. Tehran time (11:30 p.m. EDT Saturday). The statement was followed by a broadcast of verses from the Koran, the Moslem holy book.

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Direct telephone links between Tehran to the outside world were cut early Sunday.

Diplomats believe Khomeini's only surviving son, Hojatoleslam Ahmed Khomeini, is expected to assume the mantle of leadership because he was is most likely to be accepted by all factions in an internal power struggle. The Ayatollah's eldest son died in a traffic accident in 1977.

As a mark of respect, Iran's government ordered all schools closed Sunday and declared 40 days of mourning and said schools would be closed for five days. Friday is the Moslem holy day and Sunday is usually a normal working day in Iran.

The radio announcer wept while reading his report.

President Bush, while on an early morning jog at his family retreat in Kennebunkport, Maine, Sunday was asked by reporters if he knew what happened to Khomeini, and the president replied, 'No.'

'Dead,' was one reporter's shouted reply.

The White House issued a statement later Sunday, saying, 'The official Iranian news agency has confirmed the death of the Ayatollah Khomeini. With his passing we hope Iran will now move toward assuming a responsible role in the international community.'

In Baghdad, the Mojahedin Khalq organization, an Iranian political group in bitter opposition to Khomeini since 1981, called on the Iranian people to help the Iraq-based National Liberation Army of Iran to 'move in' against the Tehran government.

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The NLAI, an Iraq-based rebel army, is the Mojahedin Khalq's military wing and was estimated last year to number some 25,000 male and female troops. Its ranks have reportedly swollen since the Aug. 20 Iran-Iraq cease-fire.

Diplomats based in the Persian Gulf said machine-gun toting troops loyal to Khomeini and his son have been spotted on street corners in Tehran and in other major Iranian cities since the announcement of the Ayatollah's death.

The grand Ayatollah Shahabuddin Marashi-Najafi, in a statement issued in the holy city of Qom, some 75 miles south of Tehran, urged the Iranian people to remain calm.

In Paris, former President Abol Hassan Bani-Sadr said he expected civil war to break out in Iran and urged the Iranian armed forces not to stand against the people and protect the borders, broadcasts monitored in Beirut said.

Diplomats said the Iranian government appeared to have cut the nation's telephone communications to keep opposition leaders in exile from their contacts in Iran.

Saturday, the state-run media had said Khomeini's health was deteriorating and urged Iranians to pray for his recovery. Since Khomeini's emergency surgery, Iran's official media had broadcast regular bulletins on the Iranian leader's health.

Tehran Radio previously said Khomeini had made very good progress after his operation and his heart, liver, lungs and kidneys were functioning well, and although Khomeini's office disclosed four days after his operation that he suffered a slight heart problem they said it was under control.

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The Baghdad-based Iranian opposition group Mojahedin Khalq organization claimed, however, that Khomeini suffered a heart attack and said his post-operative condition was much worse than the Iranian media was portraying.

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