Addis Ababa — Tens of thousands of people yesterday attended the state funeral of Ethiopian premier Meles Zenawi in the capital Addis Ababa.
From early in the day, mourners — many of them in tears — had gathered at Meskel Square in the city centre for the funeral procession. Some had travelled on foot for several days to reach the capital from remote parts of the vast east African country.
Also in attendance were more than 20 African heads of state and government, and other international dignitaries.
Meles' coffin, wrapped in the national flag colours of green, yellow and red, was taken to the Selassie Church of the Trinity, in a heavy downpour of rain. Meles, who had been prime minister since 1995, died on August 21 in Belgium at the age of 57.
Funeral guests included the presidents of Uganda, Rwanda, Nigeria, Sudan and South Africa — Yoweri Museveni, Paul Kagame, Goodluck Jonathan, Omar al-Bashir and Jacob Zuma. Also present were Microsoft founder Bill Gates and the United States ambassador to the UN, Susan Rice.
Rice said in her tribute: "Meles was not driven by ideology but by his vision for a better future for the land he loved. Meles was at the same time a son of Ethiopia and a father to its rebirth." Jonathan spoke of Meles' "intellect, eloquence and vision." He said: "He was committed to economic development not only for Ethiopia but for all of Africa." Kagame said Meles' ideas would continue to live on in millions of young Ethiopians and Africans.
Meles had been a close partner of the US in the fight against Islamist terrorism, particularly in neighbouring Somalia. The country also experienced an economic upswing under his leadership, although non-governmental organisations had accused Meles of abuses of power. — dpa