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Koirala's last journey begins

world Updated: Mar 21, 2010 09:54 IST

Mourned by thousands, including world leaders, Nepal's peace architect and former prime minister Girija Prasad Koirala's last journey started on Sunday, marking the end of an era and raising questions about the fate of the republic's fragile peace process.

The funeral cortege of the 85-year-old, who died of multiple organ failures on Saturday after a pro-tracted illness, started in the morning with Koirala's body draped in his Nepali Congress party flag and covered with wreaths being taken in a stately procession to the party office for its cadre to pay their last respects.

Koirala's cousin Sushil Koirala, former protege and prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba and other party stalwarts accompanied him on the last ride in an army hearse covered with red-gold marigold flowers.

Hundreds lined up the streets to bid a last farewell to the man who was instrumental in bringing peace to Nepal after a decade of Maoist insurgency by signing a peace pact with the communist guerrillas and bringing them back to mainstream politics.

"Nepal has lost a guardian," Maoist leader Baburam Bhattarai said, reacting to the news of Koirala's passing away at his daughter Deputy Prime Minister Sujata Koirala's residence in Kathmandu.

From the party office in Sanepa, the cortege moved to Kathmandu's oldest stadium, the Dasharath Ranghashala, where Koirala's body will be kept till 2 p.m. for the public to pay their last respects.

Then it will begin the last journey to Aragyaghat, the cremation site on the premises of the Pashupatinath temple.

Information and Communications Minister Shankar Pokhrel, who is also the spokesman of Nepal's coalition government, said the government has announced on Sunday as a public holiday to observe state mourning for Koirala.

Nepal's national flag will fly at half-mast for three days in the country as well as Nepali missions abroad.

Koirala, who was Nepal's prime minister for five times and heralded some of the major changes, like abolishing monarchy and declaring the Hindu kingdom a secular state, will be given a state funeral by the government.

Nepal's closest neighbour India said its Parliament Speaker, Meira Kumar, External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will fly to Kathmandu on Sunday to attend Koirala's last rites.

Other prominent Indian politicians are also expected to attend the event. They include Rajnath Singh, former president of the Bharatiya Janata Party, and D.P. Tripathi, general secretary of the Nationalist Congress Party of India.

Koirala, whose family was closely associated with the Indian struggle for freedom, is regarded as an unwavering friend of India and one of the most influential leaders in South Asia.

Though his health was failing, the octogenarian leader's death ahead of the promulgation of a new constitution May 28, has now raised fresh doubts about the political parties' ability to accomplish the task.

"Our party undertakes to fulfil Koirala's last wish," said Arjun Narsingh KC, spokesman of his Nepali Congress party. "It was to see the constitution be implemented followed by lasting peace and development."