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Philippines lays to rest democracy icon Aquino

world Updated: Aug 05, 2009 12:02 IST

AFP
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Tens of thousands of people took to the rain soaked streets of Manila to bid farewell to former Philippine leader Corazon Aquino, who overthrew a dictatorship to become a democracy icon.

Aquino, who died at the age of 76 at the weekend after a long battle with cancer, was to be buried later Wednesday in a private ceremony.

Her coffin left Manila Cathedral draped in the national flag and was carried by eight police officers in full dress uniform to a flat bed truck festooned with yellow and white flowers.

Men and women openly cried as the truck moved slowly through the crowd for the 18 kilometres (11 miles) journey to the Manila Memorial Park.

She will be laid to rest alongside her husband Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, who was gunned down at Manila airport in 1983 as he returned home to challenge dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

Many shouted her name and threw flowers onto the truck where four members of the armed forces stood in silence on each corner of the coffin.

Tens of thousands of people began lining the route well before dawn despite storms that lashed the city overnight and into the morning to pay tribute to Aquino, who died at the weekend from colon cancer at the age of 76.

Teresita Devantes, 73, queued for 15 hours outside the cathedral on Tuesday before she got her turn to pass by her idol's open brown wooden casket at midnight.

"I'm really tired but I'm happy to be here," she said.

Wearing a yellow headband and a dress with a yellow floral design, the old woman told AFP she would accompany the cortege as far as she could.

Around 15,000 people gathered outside Manila Cathedral for the funeral ceremony.

"Where do we go from here? I am crying because we all lost a mother," said a mourner outside clutching a rosary.

University students clad in yellow were among the mourners, carrying placards that read: "Cory, you are not alone, we love you."

Tens of thousands of people have visited the cathedral to file past the open coffin containing Aquino's body ahead of the funeral rites.

Earlier, incumbent President Gloria Arroyo, an estranged ally, made a brief pre-dawn visit to the cathedral to pay her last respects.

Dressed in black slacks and blouse with a tan blazer and accompanied by key aides, Arroyo shook hands with the former leader's son, opposition Senator Benigno Aquino.

Arroyo cut short a visit to the United States following Aquino's death on Saturday and was met by Aquino family members, though she was later pointedly excluded at the invitation-only mass.

The family had curtly rejected Arroyo's offer to hold a state funeral, reflecting the icy relationship between the only two Filipino women to have led the often fractious Southeast Asian nation of 90 million.

Vice President Noli de Castro was the lone senior government representative at the mass, which was broadcast live on television and on giant monitors outside the city's principal church.

Two children of the late president Ferdinand Marcos, who Aquino had replaced after a bloodless 1986 popular revolt and who she held responsible for the murder of her politician husband paid their respects on Tuesday.

Arroyo only stayed for about 10 minutes, briefly praying at the coffin.

East Timor President and Nobel Prize laureate Jose Ramos-Horta also visited the body early Wednesday, while thousands of ordinary Filipinos began lining up along Roxas Boulevard on Manila Bay to await the passing of the hearse.

Father Catalino Arevalo recalled Aquino's role and ultimate triumph in the non-violent struggle to end the 20-year Marcos dictatorship that claimed her husband's life.

"Whenever she thought freedom to the land she loved was involved, she went back to the streets to struggle," he said, referring to the former leader's active role in the anti-Arroyo protests that followed allegations of cheating in the 2004 presidential election.

"She made me proud again to be a Filipino," the priest said.