Page last updated at 15:30 GMT, Sunday, 21 March 2010

Thousands mourn Nepal statesman Girija Koirala

Nepali Congress party leaders and supporters throng to catch a glimpse of former Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala as his body is taken to the stadium on a truck covered with flowers and party"s red and white flags, in Katmandu, Nepal, Sunday, March 21, 2010
Thousands of mourners were out on the streets of Kathmandu

Thousands of mourners have gathered in Kathmandu to pay respect to Nepal's former Prime Minister Giri Prasad Koirala, who died on Saturday aged 86.

Mr Koirala was widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of democratic Nepal, and his body was driven through the country's capital before cremation.

The former leader, who served four terms as PM, brokered a peace deal which ended a ten-year civil war.

A state funeral has been held on the banks of the holy Baghmati River.

Mr Koirala's body arrived at a public stadium in Kathmandu on a truck draped in the Nepali Congress party's red and white flags.

His political career spanned seven decades and he led protests that brought down King Gyanendra's authoritarian rule in 2008.

"I am more sad today than the day I lost my parents", one woman, Kamal Sharma told the BBC.

'Towering figure'

Mr Koirala suffered from heart and respiratory problems and had spent time in hospital several times in recent months, before dying in his daughter's home, AP reported.

At least 10,000 people congregated in the Pashupatinath temple on the banks of the Baghmati River for the cremation, the BBC's Joanna Jolly in Kathmandu says.

In a break with tradition, his daughter, Nepal's deputy PM Sujata Koirala lit the funeral pyre.

Mr Koirala's death is an "irreparable loss" to Nepal's peace process, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal was quoted as saying by AFP.

Nepal has lost "a towering figure in its political history", head of the UN mission to Nepal Karin Landgren said.

Mr Koirala is also credited as a peace broker for bringing Maoist rebels to the negotiating table to sign a peace agreement in 2006.

In recent weeks, he used this relationship with the Maoists to try to break the political deadlock between the former rebels and the governing coalition, our correspondent says.

Many fear that without him to unite the opposing sides, the May deadline for writing a new constitution may not be met and the peace process could unravel.

His cousin Sushil Koirala, acting head of the Nepali Congress Party, said: "It's a very sad day. We have lost a towering personality. So everyone is worried. Even the leaders of different parties have expressed they have lost a guardian."

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