Tens of thousands of people attended the state funeral of the founding Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea Sir Michael Somare on Friday.

Known as “father of the nation,” Michael died of pancreatic cancer on Feb. 26, aged 84.

The government had declared two weeks of mourning, which ended on Friday after four-hour service at Sir Hubert Murray Stadium in the capital Port Moresby, the daily Post-Courier reported, adding that despite Somare’s family urging people to stay home due to the pandemic, more than 20,000 people, including the late prime minister’s family, were present at the service.

The casket carrying the body of the former premier reached the final rites stadium at around 2 p.m. local time (0400GMT). The funeral service was broadcast live.

Born on April 9, 1936, Michael, also known as “Grand Chief” was elected the first prime minister of the island nation, which has a population of nearly 8.7 million, after it gained independence from Australia in 1975. He served four terms over a period of 17 years — so far, the longest-serving premier of the country.

He will be buried in Wewak, the capital of East Sepik. Somare is survived by wife Veronica Somare, two sons Sana and Arthur and daughter Dulciana Somre-Brash.

He retired from politics in 2017. Earlier, he served as foreign minister, opposition leader and governor of East Sepik.

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