, ADDIS ABABA, Aug 23 – Ethiopians mourned on Thursday the passing of both their political and religious leaders, as preparations continued to handover power to a successor to strongman prime minister Meles Zenawi.
The funeral of Abune Paulos, Patriarch of the powerful Ethiopian Orthodox Church, who died last week aged 76, was held on Thursday.
Some three thousand people, including priests dressed in yellow following robes and carrying staffs and crowds of nuns and politicians, massed outside the Church of Saint Selassie in Addis Ababa.
Still, it was the death of Meles, who ruled the Horn of Africa nation with an iron fist for 21 years, that dominated discussions in the city and in the news.
Meles died overnight Monday to Tuesday following a long illness. The 57-year-old had not been seen in public since the G20 summit in Mexico in June.
State television continued to pay tribute to Meles, with his portrait taking the front pages of newspapers. The Reporter ran a full page picture beneath the headline “Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, 1955-2012”.
Deputy Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, 47, who has also been foreign minister since 2010, will take over interim power, officials have said. He is expected to be sworn in as interim leader at an extraordinary parliament session in the coming days.
He had been due to be sworn into office on Thursday, but that was later cancelled, possibly as it clashed with the funeral of Abune Paulos.
However, government spokesman Bereket Simon said the parliamentary meeting was cancelled because lawmakers wanted more time to mourn Meles’s death.
“Parliament is asking that they have to be given time to mourn the prime minster as they are members, representatives of his constituency,” Bereket told AFP.
He did not say when the emergency session is scheduled, only that it could take place “at any time.”
State media has reported Hailemariam would remain in the post until elections in 2015, although he must first be formally chosen as head of the ruling party, likely later this year, and analysts suggest several others are also in the running for the top job.
Abune Paulos, who died after a long illness, was the patriarch of Ethiopia’s Orthodox Church since 1992, when he was elected to the highest order of the denomination.
Some two-thirds of Ethiopia’s 84 million people are Christian, the majority following the Orthodox faith.