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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 July, 2003, 12:07 GMT 13:07 UK
Iranian twins return home
Coffin arriving at Tehran airport
The twins will be buried near their birth place

The bodies of two Iranian conjoined twins who died during surgery to separate them have arrived back in Tehran amid emotional scenes.

Laleh and Ladan Bijani, who were joined at the head, died in Singapore on Tuesday at the end of a marathon operation.

They were met at the airport by senior officials and grieving friends before being transported to the city of Shiraz, near their birthplace, for burial.

The BBC's Jim Muir in Tehran says the two sisters made this last long journey together, but separate - a dream for which they gave their lives.

At the airport the surgeons in Singapore who operated on them were praised by Iranian officials, as well as by Laleh and Ladan's friends.

One friend thanked the chief surgeon for risking his own reputation in an operation on which the twins themselves had insisted, even if the chances of success were small.

Mourner
Mourners saw the coffin arrive from a distance
Another Iranian identical twin said she absolutely understood why Laleh and Ladan had ultimately found it unbearable to continue life joined together.

Even if twins were identical, she said, they were still very different people.

"They were tired of being joined together," Nooshin Mehran, a close friend of the sisters, told the Reuters news agency.

"Now they are dead their biggest wish has come true. I don't regret not trying to change their minds."

Grief

Most people did not know when the twins' bodies were coming back and members of the public who turned up were kept at a distance behind a barrier - some of them sobbing.

The operation to separate the twins lasted 53 hours

Our correspondent says the medical drama in Singapore was watched with keen interest by millions of Iranians who were praying for Laleh and Ladan to make it.

The Iranian Government is planning a national ceremony to honour the twins, Reuters reported.

Earlier Iranian President Mohammad Khatami praised the twins' courage.

"What happened to Laleh and Ladan is one page in the great book of destiny," he said.

"I know that millions of hearts here in Iran and abroad, who kept vigil and hoped desperately that the difficult surgical operation would be a success, as well as all those involved in the operation, hoped for nothing but an easier and more enjoyable life for Laleh and Ladan," he said.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Jim Muir
"Iran is united in mourning"



SEE ALSO:
Iranian twins die in surgery
08 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Surgeons' sorrow at death of twins
08 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Message from Bijani twins
06 Jul 03  |  Asia-Pacific
Conjoined twins
06 Jul 03  |  Medical notes
Mourning the loss of the twins
08 Jul 03  |  Middle East


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