PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Thousands of people from around Haiti gathered at a city park Saturday for former President Rene Preval's state funeral capping six days of mourning for the man who led the country during a devastating January 2010 earthquake and its chaotic aftermath.
Mourners marched beneath the hot sun and chanted "long live Preval" as roving traditional rara bands performed festival music at the Champ de Mars plaza in downtown Port-au-Prince, where Preval's flag-draped casket was displayed.
Three former Haitian presidents — Michel Martelly, Jocelerme Privert and Boniface Alexandre — attended the funeral along with foreign diplomats and representatives of international organizations.
Preval was the only democratically elected president to win and complete two terms in Haiti, a country that has been characterized by political upheaval throughout its history.
An agronomist by training, Preval kept a low profile in office even in the aftermath of the earthquake, which led some to accuse him of not showing leadership at a time of crisis.
But mourners had only kind words for him Saturday. Haitian President Jovenel Moise hailed Preval as a "leader for all Haitians who showed respect to everyone. Let's continue to work to make Haiti a better place."
Mario Prasmars, 42, said he traveled 18 hours to attend the funeral, calling Preval "a father for Haiti."
In the afternoon, Preval's casket was to travel four hours to the rural northern town of Marmelade, where he was born.
Family members have said that Preval, who died March 3, had a heart attack on the way to the hospital. The 74-year-old former leader had health problems including prostate cancer in the past.
Attorney General Donton Leger said this week that an autopsy did not clearly establish a cause of death and more tests would be required. He acknowledged rumors that the former president had been poisoned, without citing evidence.
Preval was elected by a landslide in 1995 as the chosen successor of Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who has not commented publicly on his death and did not attend the funeral.
His second term was characterized at the start by a sharp rise in kidnappings and widespread hunger due to higher food prices followed by the earthquake. The government said the disaster killed about 310,000 people but the precise death toll is unknown.