x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Meles Zenawi's funeral draws thousands

Zenawi, who ruled for 21 years, died on August 20 of an undisclosed illness in a Belgian hospital.

Orthodox Christian women hold candles during a funeral ceremony for Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi at Holy Trinity Church, Addis Ababa.
Orthodox Christian women hold candles during a funeral ceremony for Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi at Holy Trinity Church, Addis Ababa.

ADDIS ABABA // Thousands of mourners gathered yesterday near a public square in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to pay their final respects to their prime minister, Meles Zenawi.

Zenawi, who ruled for 21 years, died on August 20 of an undisclosed illness in a Belgian hospital. He was 57. Praised for lifting many out of poverty, he was also vilified by some for restricting freedoms.

Under his rule, Ethiopia was a strong US ally on counter- terrorism issues, particularly in Somalia, and some saw him as Africa's intellectual leader in efforts to fight poverty.

The state funeral was attended by hundreds of dignitaries from around the world, including several African leaders. In tributes read out at the funeral, regional leaders praised Zenawi's record, saying he had provided leadership to the whole of Africa.

South Africa's president, Jacob Zuma, said Ethiopia had lost "a patriot and a visionary."

"His was a life of immense courage, vision and enterprise, which he devoted to the advancement" of Ethiopia and the rest of Africa, said Paul Kagame, Rwanda's president.

The US delegation was led by Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the UN, who described Zenawi as "unpretentious and direct."

For most Ethiopians, the funeral was the culmination of two weeks of national mourning. Posters, pictures and quotes attributed to the late prime minister have been ubiquitous in nearly every street of the capital since the government announced his death.

After the funeral service in Meskel Square, a procession carried Zenawi's coffin for burial at the Holy Trinity Cathedral, where some of the country's most illustrious citizens are interred.