Tens of thousands rally in Iran capital against US 'crimes'

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News that a US strike had killed Qasem Soleimani, one of Iran's most popular public figures, brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets of Tehran and other cities

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Tehran and other cities to protest against American "crimes" after US strikes killed a top Iranian commander in Baghdad on Friday.

Chanting "Death to America" and holding up posters of the slain Iranian commander, Qasem Soleimani, the demonstrators filled streets for several blocks in central Tehran after Friday prayers.

The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps confirmed the commander of its Quds Force foreign operations arm had been killed by US forces in an air strike on Baghdad international airport.

Soleimani, who died aged 62, was one of Iran's most popular public figures.

Women and men, many of them elderly, took part in the processions, some holding aloft portraits of Iran's supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

"The axis of any evil is America, the motto of religion and the Koran is death to America," they said in unison.

"O leader of our revolution, condolences, condolences."

One group of men tore holes out of a US flag before setting it on fire.

"This was a good move, so that the whole world would realise who the terrorist is. The whole world found that out," said Ali Bakhshi, an elderly cleric.

"The dear leader of the revolution respond to them (the US) very intelligently and precisely. And the nation of Iran will resist," he told AFP.

Another group of men were seem standing on the sidelines of the proceedings, some sobbing uncontrollably.

- 'Loved by the people' -

Among the demonstrators was Mohsen Rezai, a former chief commander of the Revolutionary Guards who currently heads the Expediency Council.

Dozens of sombre-looking members of the Guards dressed in olive-green fatigues also took part in the procession.

"I think America has taken a big risk and will get its response as well," said a Guards member who only gave his surname as Qasemi.

"I don't think a war will break out. They are not brave enough to enter a direct conflict with us. I think we'll give them a crushing response as it is," he told AFP.

State news agency IRNA said there were similar demonstrations in the cities of Arak, Bojnourd, Hamedan, Hormozgan, Sanandaj, Semnan, Shiraz and Yazd.

Footage of rallies were also beamed on state television from other cities, including Tabriz, where some black-clad women had tears rolling down their faces.

News of the death of Soleimani also saw people hold impromptu gatherings in his central hometown of Kerman.

After serving in the 1980-88 Iran-Iraq war, Soleimani rose through the ranks of the Guards to become commander of the Quds Force.

In recent years he became an unlikely celebrity in Iran and had a huge following on Instagram.

A student who only identified herself as Khansari said Soleimani was "loved by the people".

"What America showed was the depth of its weaknesses and defeat in the region for it to murder the general of a country... who is so loved by the people.

"It must know that all the people of Iran are Qasem Soleimani... and this actually made the country unite again so that they can take revenge from the world arrogance," she said.