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Iran's Khamenei Cancels Annual New Year Speech Citing Coronavirus

Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in his speech in the city of Mashhad at the beginning of Iranian new year on March 21, 2019. File photo

The Islamic Republic Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has canceled his Iranian New Year speech in the midst of a serious coronavirus crisis in the country, his office announced on Monday, March 9.

Khamenei has regularly delivered the annual speech in Iran's second-largest city Mashhad, northeast Iran, since 1995, often using the occasion to outline major policies.

Khamenei's place of birth, Mashhad, is the holiest Shiite city inside Iran, where Imam Reza, the eighth Imam Shia Imam is buried.

"The ceremony for the speech of the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution, which happens every year on the first day of the new year will not take place this year," his office said in a statement.

Furthermore, according to the statement, for the first time in the past 25 years, Khamenei will not travel to Mashhad for the new Iranian year.

"The decision to cancel this year’s ceremony was taken due to the spread of the coronavirus and the strict advice of medical and health experts and officials to avoid gatherings and travel--- to slow down the spread of the illness," the statement said.

In his annual speech Mashahd speech to his followers, Khamenei usually set out a national theme and critical targets for the year ahead.

"Boosting Iranian Products," was the theme set for the current Iranian year that ends on March 21.

Khamenei has canceled his speech at a time when based on data collected by Radio Farda at least 927 died of Covid-19 in thirty out of 31 provinces of Iran.

Earlier, on February 23, Khamenei had dismissed the spread of the killer virus as "enemies' exaggeration" to discourage people from voting in the national parliamentary elections.

"Despite enemies' attempt to discourage people by exaggerating the threat of the novel coronavirus, the voters' turnout was good," he maintained, two days after the elections, while the virus was fast spreading throughout the country.