The state funeral of Syrian President Hafez Assad got underway Tuesday to the sound of a 21-gun salute, as soldiers bore his coffin covered in the national flag from his home in Damascus.
Preceded by a military band and troops carrying wreaths and followed by official and family mourners, including Assad's son and designated heir, Bashar, they marched slowly towards the central Ummayad Square where tens of thousands of people awaited them.
The cortege moved down one side of a dual carriageway road, towards the square, while in the other lane mourners kept pace, the women ululating and joining the men in joined the men in chanting religious and nationalistic slogans of praise to Assad and Bashar.
"God, Syria, Bashar and that's it," they chanted over and over again.
They also urged "paradise to open your gates for your visitor Hafez Assad", who died Saturday aged 69 after ruling Syria with an iron fist for 30 years.
At Ummayyad Square the coffin was transferred to a gun carriage, complete with cannon, towed by a six-wheeled military truck.
After making the tour of the huge square, passing through the vast shouting throng, which was kept from encroaching on to the road by troops lining the route, it headed towards the palace, five kilometers away on Qasyun hill overlooking the capital, where Assad received his foreign guests.
The cortege moved through the wide palm-lined streets, followed by two ambulances and a fleet of black limousines carrying the official mourners.
There it was to lie in state for five hours while foreign dignitaries and other mourners paid their respects before being flown to the north for burial in Assad's home town of Qerdahar 300 kilometers from Damascus – (AFP)
© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)