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'It's a sad day for Tunisia': President Essebsi's funeral attended by Arab leaders, Macron

Tunisians and visiting dignitaries are bidding adieu to Beji Caid Essebsi, who died at age 92 earlier this week after eight years as president.

Country's 1st democratically elected president died in Tunis military hospital at 92 earlier this week

The convoy carrying the body of Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi leaves the military hospital in Tunis on Friday. The funeral for Essebsi, who died Wednesday at 92, was held Saturday. (Hassene Dridi/The Associated Press)

Tunisia bid farewell to its first democratically elected president Beji Caid Essebsi on Saturday at a state funeral attended by foreign leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron and Arab leaders.
 
Essebsi, who helped guide the North African country's transition to democracy after the 2011 revolution, died at age 92 
on Thursday. 

Tens of thousands of Tunisians lined the streets of Tunis, waving flags, chanting the national anthem and throwing roses at the funeral procession as it made its way from the presidential palace in Carthage to the Al Jallaz cemetery for Essebsi's burial.
 
"Goodbye president, goodbye Bajbouj," they shouted, referring to his nickname.

Other dignitaries attending his funeral in the capital Tunis included Algerian President Abdelkader Ben Saleh, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and King Felipe VI of Spain, along with thousands of Tunisians.

The late president's coffin, covered with the red-and-white Tunisian flag, was placed on a military truck in the palace of  Carthage, about 10 kilometres from the capital.
Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi, shown chairing the opening session in March of the 30th Arab Summit in Tunis, died in a military hospital this week. He was 92. (The Associated Press)

Many roads have been closed and security forces deployed in most areas of Tunis and near the Al Jallaz cemetery.

Tunisians lined up the streets leading to the Carthage district, waving flags and chanting the national anthem.

Essebsi was hospitalized late last month after suffering what authorities described as a severe health crisis. He was taken to a military hospital and died there on Wednesday.

Thousands fill Arab Spring street

On Saturday, thousands filled Habib Bourguiba Avenue, a focal point of the 2011 revolution that sparked uprisings across the Arab world, known as the Arab Spring.
 
"It is a sad day for Tunisia," said a woman named Nabila. "We lost a great statesman who had a big role after 2011 
revolution, and helped unite Tunisians and ease historical differences with the Islamists."

Essebsi won Tunisia's first free election after the 2011 uprising that brought the North African country democracy and unleashed uprisings around the Arab world.

According to the constitution, the Speaker of parliament will temporarily serve as president. An election is set for Sept. 15 and a parliamentary vote is set for Oct. 6.

Mohamed Ennaceur was sworn in as interim president on Thursday, hours after Essebsi's death.

Tunisia remains plagued by economic troubles and sporadic terror attacks, but is the only country to emerge from the Arab Spring with a functioning democracy and is relatively open and stable compared to other countries in the region.

With files from CBC