Thousands pay tribute as Guatemala’s ex-president buried

Former Guatemalan President Álvaro Arzú, who helped end the country’s 36-year civil war, was laid to rest after dying of a heart attack. (Reuters pic)

GUATEMALA CITY: Thousands of Guatemalans paid their last respects on Sunday as ex-president Álvaro Arzú, who helped end the country’s 36-year civil war, was laid to rest.

Crowds thronged the capital’s main pedestrian street, Sexta Avenida, 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.

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

In December 1996, Arzú’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 cortège 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.

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

Arzú 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 Arzú’s legacy of peace in an official state ceremony on Saturday.