Iran's leader, the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, sat in silence Sunday while Iran's president read a broadcast speech on his behalf. There has been speculation that the 86-year-old patriarch is in poor health.
In the address read by President Ali Khamenei, Khomeini made a strong appeal for unity and praised the armed forces. Iran has been at war with Iraq for 6 1/2 years.
"The advice of our dear imam (Khomeini) . . . which he asked me to relay from his blessed tongue . . . is to preserve unity," Khamenei said in the address at Khomeini's house in Tehran.
The ceremony, marking national Air Force Day, was broadcast by Tehran radio and monitored in Nicosia. The broadcast gave no reason why Khomeini did not personally deliver the address. Iran's state-owned news agency IRNA said that at the end of the ceremony, Khomeini "responded to shouts of enthusiastic support in renewed allegiance to him by the air force personnel." It did not say how he responded to the cheering crowd but, presumably, he waved as usual.
Although his son, Ahmed, normally reads Khomeini's official statements at public rallies, this was believed to be the first time that anyone has spoken on behalf of Khomeini in his presence. There have been reports that Khomeini, who has not delivered a speech since last November, suffered at least one stroke late last year.