Mozambique bids farewell to ex-rebel Renamo leader
Mozambique's president and thousands of mourners who flocked to the port city of Beira on Wednesday paid final respects to Afonso Dhlakama, a former rebel supremo turned opposition leader who died last week.
Draped with the national flag, the casket bearing the remains of Dhlakama, a towering figure in the country's political history, was carried into the square by military pallbearers wearing camouflage fatigues and white gloves.
Dhlakama died of a suspected heart attack last Thursday at his hideout in the Gorongosa mountains in the centre of the country. The memorial service is being held about in Beira, capital of Dhlakama's home province of Sofala.
President Filipe Nyusi will deliver a eulogy of his political rival, who led Renamo for nearly 40 years before his unexpected death at the age of 65.
"It is an irreparable loss. Afonso Dhlakama is the founder of democracy in Mozambique. His fight ended with the communist regime created just after the country's independence," said Eufrasia Jordao, a mourner who came from nearby Zambezia province.
Dhlakama played a central role in Mozambique after it gained independence from Portugal in 1975.
He led Renamo, created in 1976, through a deadly civil war against the Marxist-inspired Frelimo government until the conflict ended in 1992.
He then gradually transformed Renamo into an opposition party, which failed to take power from Frelimo in elections and again took up arms between 2013 and 2016.
In December 2016, Dhlakama announced a surprise truce with the government, taking the major first step towards a formal peace deal.
Dhlakama had recently held talks with Nyusi and he was seen as playing a key role in advancing the nascent peace process.
His departure has cast a shadow on the peace process, five months ahead of local government elections and 18 months to the next presidential and legislative elections.
There is "nothing more to do at this moment than to pay homage to the founder of democracy, which he deserves. It was Renamo who founded democracy," said Jose Chitula, a former Renamo member.
"The death of Afonso Dhlakama should not be an excuse to end democracy and return to a one-party regime," added Chitula, who joined another opposition party, the Mozambique Democratic Movement (MDM).
Posters bearing images Dhlakama from various moments of his political life were plastered around the square.
Gospel music played as some female mourners wept and others chanted "Viva Afonso Dhlakama".
Dhlakama will be buried in his native village of Mangunde, southwest of Beira, on Thursday.
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