Salvador mourns deceased rebel leader

Congress on Thursday unanimously decreed three days of mourning to honor the late leftist leader and former guerrilla Shafik Handal, whose remains will be displayed in the Salvadoran capital. The 75-year-old Handal, who died Tuesday of a heart attack, was the head of the congressional faction of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front, or FMLN.

All 83 of Handal's former colleagues in Congress voted in favor of the national mourning period, which will begin Friday. In a coffin draped with a red and white flag bearing the initials of the FMLN, Handal's body traveled Thursday in a caravan along the same San Salvador streets where he had led numerous, mostly peaceful, protests.

Admirers spilled into the streets to applaud the FMLN leader who as a rebel fought several U.S.-backed regimes and later took part in the signing of 1992 peace accords that ended El Salvador's 12-year civil war. On the former guerrilla commander's chest lay a red hat he often wore during demonstrations against President Tony Saca and U.S. President George W. Bush.

Handal's body arrived at a packed Congress, where legislators began a ceremony with a moment of silence. A bouquet of roses, a lit candle and a portrait of the late legislator occupied Handal's seat. Outside, a crowd of supporters waved flags and listened to the ceremony on loudspeakers.

Legislators decreed that flags on public buildings be flown at half-staff until Sunday, when Handal is to be buried. FMLN leaders said funeral services could be delayed, however, depending on whether his Russian wife, Tania, can arrive in time from Moscow.

Handal's remains were transferred to an auditorium at the National University. On Friday the body was to lay for several hours in a city square where the FMLN has held marches, reports the AP. I.L.

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