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Monday, March 22, 1999 Published at 13:41 GMT

World: Africa

Funeral rites for Ashanti king

The Ashanti kingdom includes Ghana's goldfields

By West Africa correspondent Mark Doyle

Funeral preparations have begun for one of Africa's most important traditional monarchs, the king of the Ashanti.

The Asantehene, as the king is known, rules over an area centred on the Ghanaian city of Kumasi, but the monarchy's influence extends beyond today's national borders.

The late Asantehene, Otumfuo Opoko-Ware II, is to lie in state for several days before his burial later this week.

Only after the funeral is over will public discussion be allowed as to who will succeed him and a lavish and colourful coronation ceremony will take place to install the new Asantehene.

300-year dynasty

His successor will continue a dynasty which began some 300 years ago when the Ashanti empire began to establish itself as a serious power in the region.

The Ashanti empire is based in a fertile part of Ghana which is also rich in gold. The British colonialists only conquered the empire after several wars during the 19th century.

Modern-day Ghana is a liberal democracy, but the position of Asantehene is still widely respected by government and opposition politicians alike.

Several other African monarchs are due to attend the funeral ceremonies, including the King of the Zulus from South Africa and the King of the Mossi from Ghana's neighbour, Burkina Faso.

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