Thousands pay tribute as Guatemala's ex-president buried

by Edgar CALDERON
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The brown wooden coffin carrying the remains of ex-president Alvaro Arzu, wrapped in the blue and white flag of Guatemala, was flanked by military officers as it made its way slowly from the National Palace of Culture to the Municipality building

Thousands of Guatemalans paid their last respects Sunday as ex-president Alvaro Arzu, who helped end the country's 36-year civil war, was laid to rest.

Crowds thronged the capital's main pedestrian street, Sixth Avenue, to shout his name and throw white roses at his coffin as it was borne past on a gun carriage.

The brown wooden coffin, wrapped in the blue and white flag of Guatemala, was flanked by military officers as it made its way slowly from the National Palace of Culture to the Municipality building, his political headquarters as five-time mayor.

Arzu died Friday aged 72 after suffering a heart attack while playing golf.

In December 1996, Arzu's government and Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) guerrillas signed a peace accord ending the 1960-1996 civil war.

The conflict left 200,000 dead and disappeared, most of them from military repression.

The military paid a final tribute with a 21-gun salute and the cortege was overflown by a flight of four helicopters.

"We are going to miss him a lot, he was a great person who helped a lot of people," said Marina Barios, a housewife.

Arzu's remains were to be buried in a private family ceremony in the city of Antigua Guatemala.

Arzu was a prominent and controversial political figure who was elected mayor of Guatemala City five times.

The Guatemalan prosecutor's office opened a corruption investigation against him last year, accusing him of illegal campaign financing.

President Jimmy Morales acknowledged Arzu's legacy of peace in an official state ceremony on Saturday.

The brown wooden coffin carrying the remains of ex-president Alvaro Arzu, wrapped in the blue and white flag of Guatemala, was flanked by military officers as it made its way slowly from the National Palace of Culture to the Municipality building

The flag-draped coffin of former Guatemalan president Alvaro Arzu is escorted by military personnel during his funeral; in 1996, Arzu's government helped end the country's 36-year-civil war