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Grief-stricken Sudanese bury ex-rebel leader

Crowds of Sudanese paid last respects Saturday to former rebel leader John Garang, who helped forge peace in Africa’s largest country.
A supporter of the SPLM/A holds a photo of John Garang on Saturday in Juba, where the former rebel leader was buried.Sayyid Azim / AP
/ Source: Reuters

Wailing in grief and shaking green leaves in a traditional symbol of mourning, vast crowds of Sudanese paid last respects Saturday to former rebel leader John Garang, who helped forge peace in Africa’s largest country.

In chaotic and emotional scenes, tens of thousands crowded the streets of Juba, capital of southern Sudan, as Garang’s body was paraded slowly to the small Old Saints Cathedral.

Banners honoring Garang -- who died in a helicopter crash last weekend just three weeks after being sworn in as Sudan’s vice-president -- fluttered throughout the town.

“Garang will remain alive through his vision, thoughts and principles,” read one.

“Long live his struggle for the marginalized,” said another.

Garang’s death has stunned Africa, devastated his followers in the south of Sudan, triggered riots this week that left at least 130 dead, and fueled fears the January accord to end 21 years of north-south civil war may unravel.

After being flown round the vast southern region of bush and mountains so locals could pay homage, Garang’s corpse was taken Saturday from the town of Rumbek to Juba for formal burial.

In a deliberate show of north-south unity, former fighters from Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) joined Sudanese army pallbearers to carry his coffin, draped in wreaths of pink, yellow and red flowers.

Garang’s old enemy then partner in the peace deal, Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, stood in line to receive the coffin off a plane with South African President Thabo Mbeki and UN envoy Jan Pronk. A band played Auld Lang Syne.

Tributes pour in
During the procession to church, women ululated and children held black flags aloft from bikes.

Armed SPLA fighters and Sudanese government security forces lined the streets.

The majority of this week’s rioting between the mainly Arab northerners and the animist or Christian southerners was in the capital Khartoum, in the north. But some also died in Juba.

The Ugandan presidential helicopter Garang was traveling in went down in bad weather in mountainous terrain. Garang’s supporters have said they do not suspect foul play, but Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni said Friday the cause of the crash was unclear.

Garang’s death has raised fears the January accord, which set up a power-sharing government and allowed southerners to vote on independence in six years, may collapse.

“He was our beloved leader, our father. I fear we will go back to war without him,” said Martin Lual, an SPLA soldier.

Arab League Secretary-General Amr Moussa, leaders from around Africa, and U.S. and European officials also gathered in Juba for the funeral.

Just seven months ago, many of the same officials were in Nairobi for the Jan. 9 signing of Sudan’s deal to end a war that killed two million people, most from starvation and disease.

Garang’s successor Salva Kiir has been quick to promise implementation of the peace accord.

Khartoum confirmed Saturday that Kiir would be sworn in to replace Garang as first vice president in the next two days.