Thousands in Guinea-Bissau mourn late president

AP News
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Posted: Jan 15, 2012 12:34 PM
Thousands in Guinea-Bissau mourn late president

Thousands of residents and dignitaries gathered Sunday to pay their final respects to Guinea-Bissau's late President Malam Bacai Sanha.

Sanha's state funeral began at the National Assembly Hall, where many also assembled Saturday to mourn the late leader.

Resident Alfa Djalo said he would never forget the late president because "he was a man of peace and dialogue."

"Our country has lost a great leader," said another resident Tcherno Culabio Ba. "We must honor President Malam Bacai Sanha by working toward peace and stability in Guinea-Bissau."

Sanha, who was elected president in 2009 after the previous leader was assassinated, had died in Paris on Jan. 9 after a lengthy hospitalization. No immediate cause was given for his death, but the 64-year-old president was known to have diabetes and had undergone medical treatment in both France and neighboring Senegal during his time in office.

His body was flown back to the this tiny, coup-prone nation on Saturday and remained at the National Assembly Hall overnight.

Several state figures gave speeches in honor of the late leader on Sunday, including Raimundo Pereira who is the head of the National Assembly and interim leader until new elections are organized.

After the tributes, Sanha's body was transported to the Amura military base for burial.

Sanha won the 2009 presidential election held after the assassination of former President Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira. Sanha's election was a peaceful transition of power that marked a rare bright spot for Guinea-Bissau. Sanha became less known for what he did as president than for his frequent hospitalizations abroad, which were always described by aides as routine checkups.

Since independence from Portugal in 1974, Guinea-Bissau has been wracked by coups and has become one of the main transit points for drug traffickers ferrying cocaine to Europe.