Iran: 124 dead from virus including FM’s adviser, could use force to stop travel
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Iran: 124 dead from virus including FM’s adviser, could use force to stop travel

Hossein Sheikholeslam was involved in 1979 Iran hostage crisis; at least 4,747 infected in Islamic Republic

Iranian fire fighters and municipality workers disinfect a street in the capital Tehran for corona virus COVID-19 on March 5, 2020 (STR / AFP)
Iranian fire fighters and municipality workers disinfect a street in the capital Tehran for corona virus COVID-19 on March 5, 2020 (STR / AFP)

An adviser to Iran’s foreign minister who took part in the 1979 US embassy hostage crisis has died from coronavirus, the official IRNA news agency reported.

Hossein Sheikholeslam, “a veteran and revolutionary diplomat” died late Thursday, IRNA said.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour said Friday that the new coronavirus has killed 124 people amid 4,747 confirmed cases in the Islamic Republic as authorities warned they may use “force” to limit travel between cities.

Iran has been scrambling to contain the rapid spread of the infection. Six of those who died from coronavirus are politicians or government officials.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during talks in Moscow, Russia, December 30, 2019. (Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP)

Before his death Sheikholeslam was adviser to Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif. A former ambassador to Syria, he also served as deputy foreign minister from 1981 to 1997.

Sheikholeslam was also one of the students involved in the 1979 Iran hostage crisis. That year, and less than nine months after the toppling of the American-backed shah, Iranian students stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took 52 Americans hostage. This prompted Washington to sever diplomatic ties with Iran in 1980 and the hostages were freed in January 1981, after 444 days in captivity.

In this Nov. 13, 1979 file photo, Iranian demonstrators burn an effigy of Uncle Sam, branded with CIA on its right arm outside the US Embassy in Tehran, during a demonstration in support of the Iranian militants who took over the embassy November 4. (AP Photo, File)

The novel coronavirus has also claimed the lives of other high-profile Iranian officials, including Mohammad Mirmohammadi of the Expediency Council which advises supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei

Other deaths linked to the virus include Mohammad Ali Ramezani, an MP from Gilan, one of the worst-hit provinces in the country. Tehran MP Fatemeh Rahbar is currently in a coma after being infected, according to ISNA news agency.

Iran has closed schools and universities, suspended major cultural and sporting events and reduced working hours across the country to halt the rapid spread of coronavirus, which has spread to all of its 31 provinces.

Iran on Thursday announced it would put checkpoints in place to limit travel between major cities, hoping to stem the spread of the virus. Semiofficial media in Iran showed images of cars backed up on the highway as the checkpoints took effect.

Iran canceled Friday prayers across its major cities. Elsewhere in the region, Iraq canceled Friday prayers in Karbala, where a weekly sermon is delivered on behalf of the country’s top Shiite cleric. Authorities in the United Arab Emirates meanwhile limited prayers to two verses of the Quran so they lasted no longer than 10 minutes, over concerns about the virus.

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