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Cheney hails leadership of Ford at state funeral

Dick Cheney hailed former US President Gerald Ford at a state funeral, praising him for helping to heal the nation in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

india Updated: Dec 31, 2006 09:35 IST

Vice President Dick Cheney hailed former US President Gerald Ford at a state funeral, praising him for helping to heal the nation in the aftermath of the Watergate scandal.

Ford, the 38th president who died on Tuesday at age 93, steered the United States through "a crisis that could have turned to catastrophe," said Cheney, who was chief of staff in Ford's administration 30 years ago and an honorary pallbearer at the ceremony in the US Capitol rotunda.

Cheney eulogized Ford after news emerged that Ford, a moderate Republican known for his discretion, had confided to journalist Bob Woodward that he disagreed with President George W Bush's decision to go to war in Iraq. The report was published in The Washington Post, two days after Ford's death.

Ford held office for 2-1/2 years after Richard Nixon became the only president to resign. Nixon did so on August 9, 1974, implicated in a cover-up of a break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters in the Watergate office complex in Washington.

The only US president not elected to either the presidency or vice presidency, Ford was appointed vice president in 1973 after Nixon's original vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned to avoid prosecution on corruption charges.

Ford stirred lasting controversy by granting Nixon a blanket pardon for any crimes he may have committed — a move that helped Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, beat him in 1976.

"The consensus holds that this decision cost him an election and it's very likely so," said Cheney. "But President Ford had larger concerns at heart," he said, saying the action helped heal the nation's wounds from its most far-reaching political scandal.

Ford's flag-draped casket was borne to the Capitol by motorcade after arriving at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland. The casket was flown from California aboard a Boeing 747 from the presidential fleet.

His funeral motorcade paused briefly en route to the Capitol at the World War Two memorial to mark his war-time service in the US Navy.

Ford served 26 years as a congressman from Michigan and was Republican leader of the US House of Representatives at the time of his appointment as vice president.

He will lie in state until Tuesday, when Bush will eulogize him at another memorial service at the Washington National Cathedral. Burial is to be on Wednesday on a hillside at Ford's presidential library in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Bush, was at his ranch in Crawford, Texas, and did not attend the Saturday evening ceremony. However, many current and former members of Congress, Supreme Court justices and of the current and previous presidential administrations were on hand.

Former defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who also served as Pentagon chief under Ford and was to have been another honorary pallbearer, missed it because he was snowed in in New Mexico, NBC News reported. A Rumsfeld spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.