10/07/2017, 13.16
IRAQ
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Tens of thousands mourn 'uncle Jalal', Kurdish leader and Iraq’s first president after Saddam

His funeral was held yesterday in his hometown. Iraq’s current president, a Kurd, and other political leaders welcomed the body home. Thousands gathered for the three-hour procession. The Kurdish flag on coffin sparked protests and criticism.

Erbil (AsiaNews/Agencies) –  Tens of thousands of Iraqis took part in the funeral of Jalal Talabani, Kurdish leader and Iraq’s first president after Saddam Hussein, who died on Tuesday.

Despite the shared memory of the late president, the funeral procession was not free from the tensions that have gripped Iraqi Kurdistan since the vote for independence on 25 September.

Talabani’s coffin was brought to his hometown, Sulaimaniya, in northern Iraq, draped in the red, white and green Kurdish flag stamped with a golden sun. The plane was allowed to land in the city despite the ban on international flights because of the referendum.

A military band played the Iraqi national anthem, ‘Mawtini’ (my nation), the Kurdish anthem, and Chopin’s funeral march.

Tens of thousands of mourners gathered along the airport route and around the large Sulaimaniya mosque holding the photo of the late president and the flag of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK).

In the city, Talabani is remembered affectionately as ‘Mam Jalal’, uncle Jalal.

The funeral procession took three hours to travel from the airport to the mosque because of the crowd as some people tried to kiss the car carrying the coffin. Talabani was then buried near his home and office.

Iraq’s current president, Fuad Massum, also a Kurd, welcomed the coffin at the airport. The central government was also represented by Interior Minister Qassem al-Araji. Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi was not present, but he hailed Talabani for his role in "building a federal Iraq."

Massud Barzani, Talabani’s historic rival for the Kurdish leadership, also attended the funeral ceremony. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif, and some Kurdish representatives from Syria, Iran and Turkey were present as well.

Amid the tensions caused by the referendum on independence, the Kurdish flag on the coffin triggered a wave of protests on media close to Shia political groups that support the Iraqi government.

Talabani, a veteran leader of the Kurdish struggle for self-determination who founded the PUK in 1975, became Iraq’s president in 2005.

Although the presidency has few real powers, the decision to give it to a member of the Kurdish minority symbolised unity for Iraq under a constitution intended to share power among ethnic and religious groups.

Talabani stepped down as president in 2014 after a long period of treatment following a stroke in 2012.

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