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Portugal says goodbye to its ‘father of democracy’

Published on 09/01/2017

Thousands paid their last respects Monday to Mario Soares, widely seen as the father of Portugal's modern-day democracy, as his funeral cortege wound its way across Lisbon to applause from mourners.

The founder of Portugal’s Socialist Party, who served as president from 1986-96, died in hospital on Saturday and Monday saw the start of three days of national mourning.

Escorted by about 30 police motorcyclists, the hearse containing Soares’s coffin, draped in the national flag, left his family home in Lisbon, where mourners laid red roses — the Socialist Party symbol — on a journey to the capital’s 16th century Hieronymite monastery.

It was there that Soares, then prime minister and soon-to-be president, signed Portugal’s treaty of accession to the European Economic Community, a forerunner of the European Union.

“Mario Soares will go down in history for his fight for freedom and democracy. We must thank him and follow his example,” said Goncalo Garcia, a 16-year-old who watched the procession.

Soares’s body is to lie in state until midnight in a chapel of the monastery, where the cortege was welcomed with military honours.

“Life is too short. You have to live with dignity and leave a good memory of what you did. That way, people continue to live in the heart of their friends,” Soares once said when asked about death.

He will be buried on Tuesday at the Brazeres cemetery in the west of Lisbon alongside his wife, actress and philanthropist Maria Barroso, who died in July 2015.

Portugal’s current Prime Minister and fellow Socialist Antonio Costa said Saturday that the country had lost “someone who has so many times been the face and the voice of our freedom, for which he fought all his life”.

“It’s because of him that we escaped communism, Portuguese people didn’t want it,” said Maria Albuquerque, a 76-year-old shopkeeper who came to sign a condolence book at the Socialist Party headquarters.

Soares was admitted to hospital in Lisbon on December 13, and although his condition initially showed some signs of improvement, he later fell into a deep coma and never recovered.

The hospital did not reveal the precise cause of death, but relatives say Soares never fully overcame a spate of illnesses in 2013.

His health had further deteriorated after his wife’s death.