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Thousands Bid Farewell to Turkish German 'Heroine'

Thousands of mourners have taken part in the funeral of a young Turkish German woman, hailed as a national heroine of "civic courage." Tugce Albayrak sustained fatal injuries after saving two girls being harassed in Offenbach, Germany, last month.

The funeral was held at a mosque in the town of Waechtersbach on Wednesday, attended by Hesse’s state prime minister, Volker Bouffier, and Turkey’s ambassador to Germany, Huseyin Avni Karslioglu. Albayrak’s coffin was flanked by German and Turkish flags.

Albayrak had come to the defense of two girls being harassed inside a McDonald's restaurant in Offenbach. In a parking lot outside, after the girls were rescued, one of the assailants lunged at Albayrak, knocking her to the ground. She suffered blunt head trauma, and doctors pronounced her brain dead. Her parents asked that she be removed from life support on her 23rd birthday, which was last Friday.

Albayrak's death has galvanized Germany, both for the courage she showed and as the nation struggles to better integrate immigrants and their descendants, and overcome a history of discrimination.

Many of the mourners carried handmade banners and pins bearing Albayrak’s image. “You will always remain in our hearts,” one of the placards read.

‘We all weep after Tugce’

German media offered an outpouring of praise. Bild newspaper's headline “Germany bids farewell to a heroine. We all weep after Tugce” was among the tributes.

German President Joachim Gauck, in a letter to Albayrak’s parents this week said, “Like countless citizens, I am horrified and shaken by this terrible act. Our country grieves with you.”

Some 170,000 people have signed an Internet petition to honor Albayrak with the nation's highest Order of Merit. German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said both President Gauck and Chancellor Angela Merkel had hinted that a posthumous presentation was likely.

McDonald’s ran a full page ad in both German and Turkish newspapers offering condolences to the Albayrak family, saying “She lost her life while trying to save others.”

Albayrak's family emigrated in the 1970s from Turkey to Germany. Family members say social conditions have improved greatly since then, when most Turks could come only as guest workers and their German-born descendants could not gain citizenship. Many of those restrictions have been lifted, but some remain.

Albayrak, who was studying to become a teacher, would have had the option to choose either German or Turkish citizenship - but not both - by the age of 23, when she died.

An 18-year-old male is currently in custody in connection with Albayrak's death, having been identified by her friends fleeing the scene of the attack. Media reports say he is of Serbian origin.

After the funeral, Tugce Albayrak was buried in her hometown of Bad Soden-Salmuenster, Germany.