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Last Updated: Sunday, 13 March, 2005, 16:46 GMT
Togo lays former leader to rest
Gnassingbe Eyadema's coffin party
Eyadema's body was flown into Lome from his native village
Leaders of West African states, including the Nigerian president, have turned out for the funeral of Togo strongman Gnassingbe Eyadema.

They were joined by French and EU officials as the late leader was given a solemn send-off in the capital, Lome.

Thousands of mourners also lined the city's streets for the funeral of the man who ruled for nearly 40 years.

A bid by his son, Faure Gnassingbe, to take over after his death five weeks ago was resisted by Togo's neighbours.

Infuriated by the decision of the military to install him as president in defiance of the constitution, they declared a coup had taken place and imposed sanctions.

Faure Gnassingbe later stepped down and a presidential election has been called for 24 April.

The BBC's Grant Ferrett notes that, through their presence at the funeral, the region's presidents are demonstrating satisfaction with the outcome of the confrontation which followed Eyadema's death on 5 February.

The 'baobab' falls

A giant portrait of Eyadema, with the words "I will always be with you", overlooked Lome's marbled Palais des Congres building where dignitaries had gathered to receive the coffin.
Gnassingbe Eyadema's funeral
The late leader received full military honours including a cannon salute

Wrapped in the red, yellow and green national flag, it was placed on a podium.

Togolese Foreign Affairs Minister Kokou Tozoun praised the late leader, comparing him to the baobab, a powerful tree common to Africa.

"The baobab... whose leaves, fruits and roots nourish the people, has fallen," he said.

After seizing power 38 years ago, Eyadema governed unchallenged for more than two decades.

He legalised political parties in 1991, as a result of popular pressure, and won three elections - but there were continual allegations of political repression and electoral fraud.

President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, who also chairs the African Union, was present, along with the leaders of Ghana, Niger, Ivory Coast and Benin.

French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier and the EU's development commissioner, Louis Michel also attended.

Outside the building, thousands of supporters of the governing party - the Togo People's Rally - followed the funeral on television screens.

Faure Gnassingbe is due to stand as the party's candidate in the presidential poll.


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