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Tuesday, 13 June, 2000, 18:00 GMT 19:00 UK
Assad laid to rest
Coffin carried through Qardaha
Crowds packed Qardaha where the president was born in poverty
Syrian President Hafez al-Assad has been laid to rest in his home town after a day of ceremony and public outpourings of grief.

His coffin was placed in the family mausoleum at Qardaha, watched by his son and heir-apparent Bashar, who was handed the Syrian flag which had been draped over the coffin throughout its long journey from Damascus.
Grieving women in Qardaha
Women in Qardaha wept as Assad's coffin passed

Mr Assad's body was flown to the coastal city of Latakia after lying in state at the People's Palace in Damascus, where foreign leaders paid their respects.

His coffin was carried on a gun carriage for the final part of the journey to Qardaha, about 200km (125 miles) north-west of the capital.

Residents wept and ran towards the coffin as it arrived in the remote town, where President Assad was born into a peasant family 69 years ago.

In the Assad family mausoleum, senior Syrian and Lebanese politicians joined family members as final prayers were said.

Bashar al-Assad follows the coffin
Bashar walked behind the coffin for part of its route through the capital
Mr Assad was then laid to rest beside the grave of his eldest son, Basil, who died in 1994.

On Tuesday morning, Damascus came to a standstill as hundreds of thousands of people gathered to bid farewell to the man who had ruled them for 30 years.

Bashar led the mourners as the cortege made its way slowly from the presidential quarters in the Rawdah area of Damascus.

In Ummayad Square, it was met by a vast crowd of grieving and chanting Syrians.

The coffin was transferred from pallbearers to a gun carriage to be taken to the palace - where a stream of dignitaries filed past before greeting Bashar.
Official mourners
Lebanese President Lahoud and Prime Minister Hoss
Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah
Iranian President Khatami
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat
French President Chirac
US Secretary of State Albright
Civil rights leader Jesse Jackson
UK Foreign Secretary Cook
EU leader Romano Prodi
Former Russian Prime Minister Primakov
Vatican Foreign Minister Archbishop Tauran

Numerous Arab leaders attended the ceremony, along with President Chirac of France, representing the former colonial power.

But most other European governments and the US sent their foreign ministers. US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright snatched a brief private meeting with Bashar as he greeted the foreign representatives.

Mrs Albright said Bashar had pledged to work for peace, and said she found him "very poised".

In an unexpected development, Bashar and the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat greeted each other at great length and warmth.

It was well known that the late Syrian president and Mr Arafat bore each other a deep and personal animosity.
Crowd in Damascus
Public grief was displayed by crowds of mourners in Damascus

In the Golan Heights - captured by Israel in 1967- crowds of Druze gathered to mourn the late president after failing in their attempt to cross the border on Monday to attend the funeral.

The funeral was partially overshadowed by Monday's statement from Mr Assad's exiled younger brother, Rifaat, challenging Bashar for the presidency.

However mourners on the streets have voiced support for Bashar, chanting "With our souls and blood we follow Bashar".

'Signs of orchestration'

Correspondents say that the grief is genuine, but there have been signs of government orchestration.

The challenge to Bashar was announced by Rifaat al-Assad's spokesman, speaking from Marbella in Spain.
Syrian grief
There were genuine displays of grief by Syrians
"What is happening in Syria is a real farce and an unconstitutional piece of theatre which is a real violation of the law and the constitution," the spokesman said.

Rifaat, 62, has lived in luxurious exile in Spain and Paris since 1986 after his "defence brigades" mounted a failed challenge to his brother's authority.

He was stripped of the title of vice-president two years ago, and a newspaper said on Monday that the Syrian authorities had issued a warrant for his arrest.

The BBC's Jeremy Bowen
"A city turned out to see him off"
See also:

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