Thousands of Burundians lined the road to the capital, Gitega, on Friday as the body of former president Pierre Nkurunziza was escorted under heavy security for a state funeral after his death earlier this month.
Friday was declared a national holiday for the funeral of the former president of the Republic of Burundi. The cortege with Nkurunziza’s body left Bujumbura in the morning and driven to Gitega, some nearly 100km east of the capital, where he will be buried.
School children in uniform and citizens lined the roads waiting for the funeral convoy to pass.
The stadium in Gitega where the funeral ceremony was held was packed with citizens from across the country, all dressed in white at the request of authorities. 21 canon shots were fired in the air in honor of the fallen leader
Government officials led by Nkurunziza’s successor Evariste Nadshimiye, Nkurunziza’s widow Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza hosted mourners at the event. Former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete also attended the burial ceremony.
The funeral procession later headed to Gitega City where Nkurunziza was entombed.
Nkurunziza, who ruled the country for almost 15 years, died at the aged 55 of what the government said was “heart failure”.
But speculation is rife he may have caught the coronavirus, as his wife was flown to Nairobi for treatment for the virus just two weeks before his death.
Nkurunziza took office in 2005, chosen by lawmakers to lead the East African nation after the 1993-2005 civil war killed about 300,000 people.
The peace process known as the Arusha Accords specified that a president’s term can be renewed only once.
But Nkurunziza, who won a second term in 2010, announced he was eligible for a third term in 2015 because he had not been chosen the first time by universal suffrage.
The deadly turmoil that followed badly damaged ties with the international community, and Burundi became the first country to leave the ICC after it started investigating allegations of abuses.
Nkurunziza survived a coup attempt shortly after the 2015 vote. International donors cut support, leaving the government struggling.
Many Burundians were surprised when the president announced in 2018 that he was serving his last term. The government approved legislation meant to bestow upon Nkurunziza the title of “paramount leader” once he stepped down.