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Ethiopia Prepares State Funeral for PM Meles

  • Gabe Joselow

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, in doorway, walks past a portrait of late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a gift from another delegation, as he arrives to pay his respects to Meles' body lying in state at the national palace in Addis Ababa, Ethio

Sudan's President Omar al-Bashir, in doorway, walks past a portrait of late Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, a gift from another delegation, as he arrives to pay his respects to Meles' body lying in state at the national palace in Addis Ababa, Ethio

ADDIS ABABA — Ethiopia's longtime leader Meles Zenawi will be buried Sunday in a state funeral in Addis Ababa, nearly two weeks after the government announced he had died from an undisclosed illness. Gabe Joselow reports from the capital, Ethiopians have traveled from across the country in a show of national mourning for the influential and divisive prime minister.

The men and women standing in line take turns have been expressing their grief at the passing of Meles who led the country for the past two decades.

Addis Ababa is decorated with posters, banners and t-shirts bearing the late prime minister's image. State television stations have been running programs honoring Meles non-stop since his death was announced, while bars and restaurants have been asked not to play any music during this period of mourning.

Ethiopian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Dina Mufti says the outpouring of grief shows how deeply the nation has been affected.

"Everybody in the nation, every national, every Ethiopian, rich, poor, women, men, young, old - everybody's grieving, everybody's mourning," said Mufti.

Dina says in addition to the official ceremony, which begins Sunday at downtown Meskel Square, there will be eight other events around the capital, and at least as many in other parts of the country.

Dignitaries including Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni and former South African President Thabo Mbeki are expected to speak at the funeral.

Meles's casket will be taken to the Trinity Orthodox Church, where it will be buried alongside other prominent Ethiopian leaders, including former emperor Haile Selassie.

Independent analyst Medhane Tadesse told said many people did not expect such a large ceremony, but says it fits his political stature.

"I think they want to give him the necessary tribute that really is at par with his role internationally and on the African stage," said Tadesse. "Probably this is the grandest funeral politically in Africa so I think they want to make that point."

Tadesse says the country's leaders may also have a political incentive.

"Beyond that there could be issues of legitimacy of continuity and cementing his legacy and his name would also help the ruling party and Ethiopia's newly emerging leaders to use it as a launching pad for whatever political projects," Tadesse added.

Meles is to be succeeded by Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn who has yet to be sworn in.

Rights groups have urged the country's next leader to do more to improve the country's human rights record, such as lifting harsh restrictions on freedom of expression put in place during the former prime minister's time in office.

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