Sat, Nov 13, 2004 - Page 1 News List

Arafat buried amid scenes of chaos

PANDEMONIUM The police's crowd-control efforts were mostly for naught as emotional crowds clamored around his coffin after it arrived yesterday from Cairo


Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was laid to rest in a marble-and-stone grave yesterday after his flag-draped coffin was borne through a sea of emotional Palestinians who swarmed the helicopter that brought him from a state funeral in Egypt.

Police fired wildly into the air to keep back the surging crowd at the West Bank compound known as the Muqata, where Arafat spent his last years as a virtual prisoner.

Two people who were trampled in the melee were carried away on stretchers.

After Arafat's body was lowered into the ground, Muslim clerics read Koranic verses and the late leader's bodyguards wept and embraced each other.

Officials tried for 25 minutes to open the helicopter door to remove the coffin onto a jeep that plowed through the crowd to clear a path.

As the coffin was carried toward the gravesite, police jumped on top of it, waved their arms and flashed the victory sign. People chanted, "With our blood and our soul we will redeem you Yasser Arafat!"

Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas and Omar Suleiman, Egypt's director of intelligence, tried to emerge from the helicopter, but were kept back by the huge crowd.

``It is not what we expected,'' Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat, who traveled in the helicopter carrying Arafat's coffin, said of the chaos. ``We had to do the burial before sunset in Islamic tradition ... I expected much better, more organized but things got out of hand, unfortunately.''

The red, white, green and black flag was ripped off the coffin as it was carried through the crowd.

The failure of police to control the pandemonium augured poorly for Palestinian hopes to maintain calm and order in the wake of Arafat's death.

Earlier, people burst through gates of the compound and climbed over walls to pay their final respects to the man who embodied their dreams of statehood. As Arafat's helicopter landed, the crowd cried out ``Welcome, welcome, Abu Ammar!'' using his nom de guerre. ``Welcome welcome old man!''

Armed policemen had tried for several hours to keep people back, but mourners, eager to get close to the gravesite, pushed their way through. Police scrambled to keep people off the helicopter landing pad.

Barred from attending Arafat's burial, tens of thousands of Gaza residents held rallies and symbolic funerals across the strip.

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