Dozens of world leaders were packing their bags Sunday to attend the funeral of Syrian President Hafez Assad, who will be laid to rest in his home village Tuesday after an elaborate procession through the streets of the capital.
The official Syrian news agency gave details of the funeral Sunday as thousands of grief-stricken mourners marched in the streets of Damascus, draped in black to mourn the leader who ruled the country for 30 years.
Assad will be laid to rest after dusk prayers Tuesday in the family burial ground of Kerdaha, 300 kilometers (190 miles) northeast of Damascus, next to his son Basil, his one-time favorite heir-apparent, who died in 1994.
US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, Jordan's King Abdullah II, Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh and Iranian President Mohammad Khatami are among the world leaders who confirmed they will attend the funeral.
Palestinian president Yasser Arafat, whose ties with Syria have been chronically strained since 1983 over peacemaking with Israel, will also be present, a Palestinian official in Damascus said, though an aide in Gaza City said nothing had been decided.
Baghdad Radio said one of Iraq's vice presidents, Taha Mohieddin Maaruf, would represent the country at the funeral on Tuesday, becoming the highest-ranking Iraqi official to visit Syria, ruled by a rival branch of the Baath party, in two decades.
Moscow, once Syria's most formidable ally, said it will send the president of the Russian parliament or Duma, Guennadi Selezynov.
Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed was the only Asian leader to definitely announce that she would attend.
An Italian diplomat in Damascus said that European Union countries will coordinate their participation at the funeral although Rome expected to be represented "at the very highest level".
But the first to arrive in Damascus to pay their respects were President Emile Lahoud, prime minister Selim Hoss and Parliamentary Speaker Nabih Berri of Lebanon, where Syria deploys troops and is the key power broker.
Assad's widow and his daughter Bushra will receive women mourners separately, according to Islamic tradition – (AFP)
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