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Arrivederci, Prof de Marco

The nation bid its final farewell to former President Guido de Marco today with a state funeral that drew hundreds of people to Valletta and emptied the streets, as many more people watched proceedings on television.

Prof de Marco, an MP for 33 years before becoming President, passed away on Thursday aged 79.

Hundreds of people filed past the body of Prof de Marco in the final hours of lying in state this morning.

Prof de Marco started his final journey at 2.40 p.m. when his coffin was carried out of the Palace and placed on a gun carriage, a poignant moment since the Palace was the centre of his public service for 38 years.

People who lined both sides of Republic Street under a blazing sun applauded as the cortège slowly made its way to St John's Co-Cathedral. Some people wept openly and shouted 'Guido, Guido' .

St John's Co-Cathedral was packed with mourners well before the funeral Mass started.

President George Abela led the congregation, while the highest ranking foreign dignitary, Kuwaiti Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah sat on the front pew. With Prof de Marco enjoying deep respect in Kuwait for his support for the country during the invasion by Iraq in 1990, the former Bishop of Kuwait, Mgr Francis Adeodato Micallef, took part in the funeral Mass.

Archbishop Paul Cremona in his homily praised the former President for having been at ease with both dignitaries and ordinary people and for having seeing value in everyone, hence his belief in the politics of persuasion.

A message of condolence sent on behalf of Pope Benedict was read at the end of the Mass. In it the Cardinal Secretary of State said that mindful of Prof de Marco's clear and constant witness to his faith in Christ in the conduct of political life, the Holy Father prayed that many who served in public office would draw inspiration from his example.

Those present for the funeral included Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi and Opposition leader Joseph Muscat, former Presidents, former Opposition leader Alfred Sant, Italian Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs Vincenzo Scotti, Suha Arafat, and people from all walks of life who had known and loved the former President .

The coffin, draped in the Maltese flag, was carried out of the Co-Cathedral to long applause from those inside and outside. The cortège then proceeded out of Valletta along Merchants' Street and past his former office at the Foreign Ministry, to the War Memorial.

President and the de Marco family walking immediately behind the coffin followed by members of the judiciary - who well remember Prof de Marco as a leading criminal lawyer and later as Justice Minister - MPs, representatives of foreign governments and members of the public.

Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna fired a salute to Prof de Marco from the antique guns at the Upper Barrakka gardens.

The formality of the state funeral gave way to the popular manifestation of grief at Hamrun - for long Prof de Marco's place of residence.

The St Cajetan Band, of which he was vice president for several years, played funeral marches and people threw flowers at the hearse as it stopped outside the parish church and clubs with which he was associated.

One man, tears in his eyes, summed up his goodbye in the way Prof de Marco normally did.

Arrivederci, he called out to him in a voice breaking with emotion.

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