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Ethiopia holds state funeral for Zenawi

September 2, 2012 (ADDIS ABABA) - Ethiopia on Sunday held the funeral of the country’s long-time Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi, who died last month due to an undisclosed illness.

Orthodox Christian women are pictured during a funeral ceremony for Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi at Holy Trinity church for burial in Addis Ababa on September 2, 2012. (Getty)

Tens of thousands of people most dressed in black gathered at Addis Ababa’s Maskal Square, where the official funeral ceremony took place, to pay their final respects.

Over 700 foreign dignitaries including 20 African presidents, a number of prime ministers and delegates representing various nations and international organizations from across the globe attended the funeral ceremony.

African head of states including the presidents of South Africa, Sudan, Uganda, South Sudan, Nigeria and Rwanda as well as representatives of the Africa Union, the US and the European Union (EU) expressed their sympathy and delivered messages about Zenawi’s death.

After prayers at Meskel Square, Ethiopia Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said Meles Zenawi was a visionary leader who struggled not only for the renaissance of Ethiopia but also for the African continent.

Hailemariam said Zenawi through his excellent diplomatic skills had made hydro-power into a means of joint developmental means and not a source of dispute and conflict between Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan.

He reaffirmed that Zenawi’s initiatives, policies and strategies as well as diplomatic ties with the horn of Africa, the continent, and with the world at large will further be strengthened and sustained.

South Sudanese president Salva Kiir praised Zenawi saying he was a champion of human rights, peace and development to Africa particularly to the region.

“Meles Zenawi provided unwavering support to the peace process between Sudan and South Sudan that led to our freedom ultimately”. South Sudan seceded from Sudan last year as part of a 2005 peace deal.

“He was a one who can’t give up confronting even to extreme difficult challenges” Kiir said adding “we have learned a lot of lessons from Zenawi”.

South African President Jacob Zuma said the continent had "lost one of the greatest sons of Africa", while Paul Kagame of Rwanda said Meles was visionary and uncompromising when it came to the interests of his people.

Benin’s president and current Africa Union chairman Thomas Boni Yayi hailed Meles’s "driving force" in roles to end conflict and to maintain peace and stability in Africa particularly in Sudan and Somalia.

“Meles Zenawi had the energy and vision to fight to the achievement of African prosperity and to ensure peace and stability in Africa” Yayi said. “He strongly supported the visions of the AU and represented Africa at different international stages such as G8 and G20 and reflected African interest”.

Former South African president Thabo Mbeki said Zenawi was a great architect of the new Ethiopia and Africa.

Other African leaders including Uganda’s Yoweri Moseveni, Nigeria’s Goodluck Jonathan, lauded the deceased for his remarkable achievements in the advancement of his people and Africans in general.

The leaders further noted his outstanding role and achievement in international forums as Africa’s advocate.

After the fair well ceremony was concluded at the vast Maskal Square the body of the late prime Minister, was laid to rest at the Holy Trinity Cathedral just behind the National Palace.

Zenawi led Ethiopia for 21 years after the former rebel toppled the dictatorial Derg regime in 1991.

Under Zenawi millions of people were lifted out of poverty and the country emerged to having one of the fastest growing economies in the region. However, the IMF has questioned Ethiopia’s claims of double digit growth. Zenawi’s legacy will also remembered for his regime’s intolerance of a free press and other human rights violations.

The acting Prime Minister, Hailemariam, is expected to take over the Ethiopian government. Zenawi died last month at the age of 57 after two months of illness.