28 Apr 2004

Fiji begins three day state funeral for former president

4:19 pm on 28 April 2004

Fiji's capital came to a standstill this morning as a three-day state funeral for former president and longtime prime minister, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara, got underway.

Ratu Mara will be buried on his home island of Lakeba in the Lau group where he was paramount chief.

Thousands of people and school children lined the streets of Suva as the casket was taken in solemn procession from Suva Private Hospital to Government House.

It will lie in state for the next three days so dignitaries from around the world and local people can pay their last respects.

Traditional warriors from Ratu Mara's home province of Lau, with their faces painted in black and carrying war clubs, maintain a 24-hour guard at Government House.

Friday has been declared a national day of mourning and a public holiday in honour of Ratu Mara's service to the country.

On Friday afternoon, a state funeral will be held at Suva's Albert Park after which Ratu Mara's casket will travel by a government ship to his home island escorted by naval ships from Fiji and Tonga.

Among officials attending Friday's funeral will be the prime ministers of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands, as well as the foreign ministers of Australia and New Zealand.