Key Iran clerical body chief dies after illness

Iran Materials 31 July 2007 12:21 (UTC +04:00)

( AFP ) - The head of Iran's Assembly of Experts, the body that selects and supervises the country's supreme leader, died on Monday in a Tehran hospital after battling a chronic sickness, state news agency IRNA reported.

Iranian media reported that Ayatollah Ali Meshkini, 86, was suffering from respiratory and kidney complications.

The cleric, born in Meshkin in northwestern Iran, also led the Friday prayer sermon in the Islamic republic's clerical capital of Qom.

Meshkini had only recently won re-election to the Assembly of Experts by popular vote in the 2006 polls and had also been confirmed by its members as its head.

He was the author of several books on Islamic jurisprudence and general religious issues.

The assembly, the fourth since the Islamic revolution in 1979, was elected in December in polls that saw a strong performance by centrist cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani against hardline rivals.

The 86 members of the assembly are all clerics who have been deemed sufficiently qualified in Islamic jurisprudence to stand for the office.

Their main job is to supervise and select the supreme leader, currently Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, 67. If the performance of the supreme leader is deemed inadequate, they even have the power to oust him.

The last time the body was called upon to choose a supreme leader was in 1989, when it selected Khamenei after the death of Iran's revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.