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Ahmadinejad Says Chávez Will Rise With Christ; Is Chastised By Cleric

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Atta Kenare
AFP/Getty Images
Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Just before leaving for Venezuela to attend the funeral of Hugo Chávez, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad penned a laudatory tribute for the late president.

"[Chavez] is alive, as long as nations are alive and struggle for consolidating independence, justice and kindness. I have no doubt that he will come back, and along with Christ the Saviour, the heir to all saintly and perfect men, and will bring peace, justice and perfection for all," Ahmadinejad wrote in a letter he sent the Venezuelan vice president.

But The Guardian reports his note almost immediately unleashed criticism from Ahmad Khatami, a cleric.

The Guardian adds:

"'I say directly that he went too far with what he mentioned in his tribute,' said Khatami, who is a Tehran Friday prayer leader and a close ally of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. 'The president is well aware that such a tribute will provoke reactions in our religious institutes ... He could have sent a diplomatic message with no religious connotations.'

"On Wednesday, the Iranian cabinet declared a day of national mourning, and Ahmadinejad wrote a letter of condolence addressed to Venezuela's interim president, Nicolás Maduro."

The Guardian explains:

"The president did not name Imam Mahdi, the revered saviour of Shia Islam, in his tribute, but by naming Christ he made clear that Chávez would also be among the Imam's allies. The reappearance of Mahdi is anticipated by believers in a manner comparable to that with which Christians anticipate the second coming of Jesus. Shia Muslims believe both will come on the resurrection day."

Stateside, Rep. Jose E. Serrano, a Democrat from New York, faced criticism, too, when he issued a statement praising Chávez.

"His legacy in his nation, and in the hemisphere, will be assured as the people he inspired continue to strive for a better life for the poor and downtrodden," Serrano said in a stament.

ABC News reports the Republican National Committee pounced.

"It's simply insulting that a Democrat Congressman would praise the authoritarian ruler Hugo Chavez," RNC spokeswoman Alexandra Franceschi wrote in a statement. ""Chavez systematically cracked down on the basic freedom and liberties of Venezuelans, nationalized private industries, and befriended anti-American dictators like Castro, Ahmadinejad, and Assad. Americans should stand together with the freedom loving people of Venezuela as they hope for a peaceful transition to a democracy, instead of praising the former dictator."

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Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.