Ghanaians rise early, wait hours to honour late president
8/9/2012 8:10:09 PM -
ACCRA (AFP) - Ghanaians awoke well before sunrise and queued for hours on Thursday to honour late president John Atta Mills, a leader who, one mourner said, "preached and practiced peace".
The solemn mood in Accra was lightened only by groups performing songs and dances, while thousands of mourners dressed in red and black paid their last respects to Mills, whose body lay in state for a second day.
Mills, who led the west African nation lauded as a stable democracy in an often turbulent region, died on July 24 from an undisclosed illness. There have been unconfirmed reports that he suffered from throat cancer.
He is to be buried on Friday on the grounds of Osu Castle, the presidential residence. Some 16 heads of state are expected to attend, along with dignitaries including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
David Kodjo, a civil servant from Cape Coast, the capital of Mills' central home region, said he arrived outside the State House at 6:00 am to make sure he got a chance to view the body.
After a two-hour wait, he reached the flower-strewn golden table where Mills' body, dressed in a white jacket and black trousers, lay encased in a glass frame.
"My joy is that I have been able to pay my last respects to this man of peace," said Kodjo.
There had been rumours that Mills was sick, but his death surprised Ghanaians, many of whom say they valued the integrity he showed in office.
"His death should be seen as an opportunity to unite all Ghanaians, irrespective of our political aspirations, because when he was alive he preached and practiced peace," Kodjo said.
By mid-morning the line of mourners snaked back at least a kilometre.
"We don't mind if we spend the whole day here before we can pay our last respects to the president," said Rebecca Essien, speaking on behalf of a group of market sales women. "He was a leader after our heart."
As Essien and others waited, musicians tapped drums and played flutes, and troupes, some also clad in red and black, performed dances.
Memorabilia vendors offered souvenirs, including badges, key-rings, vests and t-shirts emblazoned with the late president's image.
One newspaper marked the day of national mourning with a headline declaring "Grief, grief, grief as Ghana weeps and pays last respects for Mills". Another simply read "Tears flow for Mills".
Among the funeral guests will be John Dramani Mahama, Mills' former vice president, who was sworn into office to replace him hours after his death.
Ghana is set to hold elections in December, and Mahama is widely expected to be the candidate for the ruling National Democratic Congress party.
The security deployment around the State House was heavy, with major streets blocked off, causing added traffic delays.
Despite the inconveniences and long lines, Essien said she was determined to see the body. "No sacrifice is too much to honour him," she said.