DHAKA: Hundreds of thousands of people flocked to Bangladesh's presidential palace Thursday to pay their last respects to president Zillur Rahman after he died in a Singapore hospital.
Carrying flowers and wreaths, people from all walks of life, including women and children, filed past his open coffin on display at Dhaka's Bangabhaban palace, saluting a leader who had one of the nation's most illustrious political careers.
Rahman died at the age of 84 on Wednesday after playing lead roles in the country's democratic struggles, including its liberation war.
"He was a very good man and a perfect gentleman," said Mostofa Kawser, 35, who placed a flower on the late president's coffin.
"When the army government arrested the top leaders in 2007, he led from the front to restore democracy."
Bangladesh declared three days of national mourning and Thursday was made a public holiday for Rahman.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and acting president Abdul Hamid, also the national parliament speaker, led tributes after they received Rahman's coffin, draped in the national flag, at the capital's Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport.
Hasina called his death "an irreparable loss to the country and its people".
Political parties set aside their bitter rivalries to pay respect to the veteran politician whose job as president was largely ceremonial. The main opposition scrapped a planned strike in parts of the country in his honour.
Local media mourned the death of the nation's "guardian" who was known for his humility.
A UN spokesman said Secretary General Ban Ki-moon was saddened by Rahman's death, who "made important contributions to the country's democratic transition throughout his political life".
US Secretary of State John Kerry recalled how Rahman's efforts had "helped lead to the creation of Bangladesh in 1971, and his subsequent decades of public service helped Bangladesh establish itself as the democracy it is today".
A ceremonial motorcade brought Rahman's coffin to the palace, where he had lived for the last four years. He was given a guard of honour by heads of the country's security forces.
He will be buried at a Dhaka graveyard on Friday afternoon after a funeral prayer in his hometown, in a northern district, and another in the capital.
Rahman, who was suffering from kidney and respiratory problems, was flown to Singapore's Mount Elizabeth Hospital by air ambulance on March 10 after his health worsened.
A lawyer by profession and one of the longest serving lawmakers in the country, Rahman first joined parliament in 1973 after making his name as an activist who pushed for Bangladesh to break free from Pakistani rule.