200,000 pay final respects to Aquino

The former Philippines president Corazon Aquino is to be buried next to her assassinated husband.

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MANILA // About 200,000 people took to the rain-soaked streets of Manila yesterday to bid farewell to the former president Corazon Aquino, whose "People Power" democracy movement ended decades of dictatorship. Aquino, who died aged 76 after a long battle with cancer, was buried in a private ceremony after a long funeral procession skirting the Philippine capital's gleaming business towers and teeming shantytowns. With a national holiday called as part of 10 days of official mourning, thousands of people surrounded her flag-draped coffin as it left Manila Cathedral following a mass just before noon. Eight police officers in full dress uniform served as pallbearers, carrying the casket to a flatbed lorry festooned with yellow and white flowers. Police had estimated the crowd in central Manila alone to have reached 150,000 by midafternoon, but as the procession continued on its 18km route thousands more braved the rain to join in. At Manila Memorial Park and the stretch of motorway leading to it, up to 50,000 more people were estimated to be in attendance, officials said. It took about eight hours for the slow-moving convoy to arrive at the cemetery. Aquino was given a 21-gun salute by the honour guard after which her remains were transferred to a caisson that carried her to a mausoleum. She was laid to rest beside her husband, the late opposition leader Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, who was shot to death by forces loyal to the then dictator Ferdinand Marcos at Manila airport in 1983 upon returning from exile in the US. Millions, including from the 8.7 million-strong overseas Filipino community, monitored the slow progress of the cortege on television and internet sites with streaming video. "Thank you very much to the Filipino people," said an emotional Rapa Lopa, an Aquino nephew. "It is really very heartwarming and very overwhelming." "She made me proud again to be a Filipino," said Father Catalino Arevalo, recalling Aquino's bloodless triumph against the 20-year dictatorship of Marcos in 1986. The East Timor president and Nobel Prize winner Jose Ramos-Horta, who flew to Manila to attend the funeral, described Aquino as "one of the greatest people of the 20th century", likening her to India's independence hero Mahatma Gandhi. Men and women standing at least 10-deep on both sides of the road openly wept as the lorry crawled through the swelling crowd, while military helicopters circled overhead, showering them with yellow confetti. A crowd of nuns, their blue habits wet from the rain, released white doves and yellow balloons - yellow was Aquino's signature colour. Ships docked along Manila Bay sounded mournful horns. President Gloria Arroyo, whom Aquino had turned against over accusations of corruption in the Arroyo administration, made a brief predawn visit to the cathedral to pay her last respects. She shook hands with the former leader's son, Benigno Aquino, and prayed briefly over the casket. Ms Arroyo cut short a visit to the United States following the former leader's death on Saturday. But she was pointedly excluded from the invitation-only mass that was attended by two past presidents, Fidel Ramos and Joseph Estrada, and foreign diplomats. * Agence France-Presse