Bourguiba, 97

Published April 8th, 2000 - 02:00 GMT

Thousands of Tunisians turned out Saturday to pay a final tribute to independence leader Habib Bourguiba, who died Thursday at the age of 97.  

Leaders from Europe and the Middle East -- including French President Jacques Chirac, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflika and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat -- attended the former president's funeral in his birthplace Monastir 160 km south of the capital Tunis.  

Other personalities attending included the prime minister of Qatar, Sheikh Abdallah ben Khalifa Al-Thani, the speaker of Portugal's parliament, Antonio Almeida Santos, Mauritanian President Mauuiya Ould Sid'Ahmed Taya and Prince Moulay Rashid of Morocco, King Mohammed's younger brother. 

A large security force was deployed in the Mediterranean city, where large numbers of people paid their respects at the Bourguiba family home or lined the streets to watch the funeral cortege. 

Tunisian President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali on Thursday decreed seven days of national mourning.  

Bourguiba was long considered one of the leading voices of moderation and gradualism in the Arab world, creating in Tunisia a moderate, pro-western regime that sought to reduce the influence of religion on society, in particular by guaranteeing women's rights.  

After he had had himself proclaimed president for life in 1975, however, civil dissension exacerbated by economic difficulties mounted. 

He was overthrown in a bloodless coup on November 7, 1987, following allegations that he had become senile. He lived out his retirement in an official residence in Monastir. 

On Friday, Bourguiba's body was taken to Tunis for an official ceremony at his party headquarters. 

The body was then returned to his sea-front family home in Monastir and lay in state on the tiled patio where friends and followers called to pay tribute. 

Thousands of others waited outside the gold-domed Bourguiba family mausoleum where the former president would be laid to rest -- MONASTIR, Tunisia (AFP - Photo by AFP) 

© 2000 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)

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