Thousands of mourners, including African leaders and the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, have attended the funeral of Ghana’s president John Atta Mills in the capital, Accra.
Mills died last month after four years in the job and was due to seek re-election in the country’s upcoming presidential elections in December.
A military cortege conveyed Mills’ body from the State House parliamentary complex, where it had lain in state since Wednesday, to Independence Square, where the funeral began on Friday morning.
More than 10,000 people gathered in and around the square, according to the AFP news agency.
Among those who viewed the body as it lay under a glass case before the service were Alassane Ouattara, Ivory Coast’s president, and his Liberian counterpart, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Leaders of Benin and neighbouring Togo also attended the funeral.
Clinton, who is on an African tour, arrived in Ghana on Thursday night but the funeral was not the main purpose of her visit.
Faure Gnassingbe, Togo’s president, told journalists: “He [Mills] was like a brother to me. I will surely miss him.”
Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi, also the current African Union chairman, described Mills as “passionate about peace in Africa and in the region”.
His death on July 24 at age 68 following an illness came as a shock to many Ghanaians, despite rumours that he had been sick and reports that he suffered from throat cancer.
Coming just five months ahead of polls, the death upended the presidential race in the West African country that recently became a significant oil producer and is praised as a stable democracy in an often turbulent region.
After the ceremony, the body will be taken to Osu Castle, the official presidential residence, for burial.
Early arrivals rapidly filled the large square, where heads of state and other dignitaries were placed in a special seating area, while large television screens broadcast the ceremony for those unable to get closer.
The event was also being shown on national television.
“Today is my saddest day,” said Akua Danso, an 80-year-old former teacher who was confined to a wheelchair, being pushed by her grandson.
“I have seen presidents come and go but he was the best. He was very humble. I wish I had the opportunity to meet him while he was alive, just to tell him that he was a gem,” she told AFP.
For a brief period ahead of the start of the funeral, a helicopter hovering over the area dropped leaflets reading, “We want peaceful elections in 2012.”
Mills’ vice-president John Dramani Mahama was sworn in to serve out the remainder of his term hours after his death, as dictated by the constitution.
The ruling National Democratic Congress (NDC) said that it would name Mahama as its candidate in the polls due at the end of the year.