At least 50 people have been killed and more than 200 injured in a stampede as Iranians gathered for the funeral procession of General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US drone strike in Baghdad last week.
The deaths in the top military commander’s hometown of Kerman led to the burial ceremony being delayed.
Qasem Soleimani’s burial is the last in a series of funeral events that have brought millions on to the streets in Iran.
His killing has raised fears of a conflict between the US and Iran.
Qasem Soleimani, the head of the Quds force, was tasked with defending and projecting Iranian interests abroad, and was hailed as a hero by many in his home country. Immediately after his death, Iran threatened retaliation.
To the US, Qasem Soleimani was a terrorist, and in explaining why he ordered the strike, President Donald Trump said he was acting on an “imminent” threat.
The crush in Kerman happened at the start of a funeral procession that had drawn vast numbers of people on January 7, ahead of the planned burial.
According to officials, quoted on Iran’s Isna news agency, the death toll at 50, with those injured numbering more than 200.
Video online showed people on the ground with their faces covered by clothing.
Iranian media later reported that the burial had resumed. Video footage showed the procession of Qasem Soleimani’s casket. People threw items of clothing which officials touched against the casket before returning them.
Top Iranian officials renewed their threats of revenge. “The martyr Qasem Soleimani is more powerful… now that he is dead,” the Revolutionary Guards’ top general, Maj. Gen, Hossein Salami, told crowds in Kerman.
The Guards were set up to defend Iran’s Islamic system and are a major political and military force. The Quds Force is its overseas operations arm.
According to local reports, mourners in Kerman chanted “death to America” and “death to Trump”.
Thousands of Iranians have gathered in the city of Ahvaz, southwest of Iran, on January 5 to receive the remains of General Qasem Soleimani, who was killed in a US airstrike in Baghdad.
The mourners beat their chests and chanted “death to America”.
Qasem Soleimani was the architect of Iran’s sphere of influence across the Middle East and he was considered to be the country’s second most powerful man.
The assassination of the top military commander marked a significant escalation between Iran and the US.
Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, who had a close personal relationship with Qasem Soleimani, warned of “severe revenge” for the attack.
President Donald Trump, who authorized the attack on Qasem Soleimani on January 3 – an option refused by both Presidents Bush and Obama as too risky – said in a tweet that the US was ready to strike 52 sites “important to Iran & the Iranian culture”.
In a series of tweets likely to raise concerns about a path to war between the two countries, President Trump said the US would strike Iran “VERY FAST AND VERY HARD” if Iran targeted American bases or troops.
He said the 52 targets identified by the US represented 52 Americans who were held hostage in Iran for more than a year from late 1979 after they were taken from the US embassy in Tehran.
President Trump warned: “The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment. We are the biggest and by far the BEST in the World! If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way…and without hesitation!”
Iran’s foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif responded on Twitter, saying that the killing of Qasem Soleimani was a breach of international law and that any targeting of cultural sites would be constitute a war crime.
Thousands of black-clad mourners gathered early on Sunday morning in the streets in Ahvaz, where Qasem Soleimani’s body had arrived before dawn.
The Irib state news agency showed footage of Qasem Soleimani’s casket, wrapped in an Iranian flag, being unloaded from a plane as a military band played, before it was flown on to Ahvaz.
The channel showed crowds gathered in the city’s Mollavi Square, waving flags and holding aloft portraits of Qasem Soleimani, who is seen by many in Iran as a hero because of his role as a soldier in the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s and his closeness to the supreme leader.
In the capital Tehran, members of parliament chanted “death to America” for a few minutes during a session of the house, the ISNA news agency reported.