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Dignitaries bid farewell to the late Martti Ahtisaari at a ceremony Friday in Finland’s capital for the former president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate who helped facilitate peace deals in the countries of many of the mourners.
Ahtisaari died Oct. 16 at the age of 86.
More than 800 dignitaries and guests, including Kosovo President Vjosa Osmani, Namibian President Hage Geingob, former Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, and the former leaders of Indonesia and its Free Aceh rebel movement, attended the ceremony at the Helsinki Cathedral. Sweden’s King Carl XVI Gustaf and former President of Ireland Mary Robinson also were among the guests.
“He was a great Finn, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He put his own stamp on both Finnish history and international history,” current Finnish President Sauli Niinistö said in his eulogy.
“The work President Ahtisaari did in Indonesia, Kosovo, Namibia and many other places has left its mark on the lives of numerous people,” he said at the end of the church ceremony, which included wreath laying and music by Finland’s most famous classical composer, Jean Sibelius.
Ahtisaari helped reach peace accords related to Serbia’s withdrawal from Kosovo in the late 1990s, Namibia’s bid for independence in the 1980s, and autonomy for Aceh province in Indonesia in 2005. He was also involved in the Northern Ireland peace process in the late 1990s, being tasked with monitoring the IRA’s disarmament process.
He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2008.
He later founded the Helsinki-based Crisis Management Initiative, aimed at preventing and resolving violent conflicts through informal dialogue and mediation. In May 2017, Ahtisaari stepped down as chairman but said he would continue working with the organization as an adviser. In 2021, it was announced that Ahtisaari had advanced Alzheimer’s disease.
After the service, soldiers carried the casket to a hearse as a military band played a funeral march outside the neoclassical cathedral with its distinctive tall green dome and four smaller domes.
The Finnish flag, a blue cross on a white background, flew at half-staff on Friday across the capital. Church bells rang across the Nordic country in remembrance of the Finnish statesman on Friday afternoon.
In cold weather, hundreds of people lined up along the route from the cathedral through downtown Helsinki to the city’s Hietaniemi cemetery where Ahtisaari was laid to rest among other Finnish presidents. His widow, Eeva, and son, Marko, each threw a red rose into the grave as rain fell gently. The funeral procession briefly stopped outside the presidential palace where he served from 1994 until 2000.
The church service and the procession were broadcast on national television.
Later, Finnish Prime Minister Petteri Orpo was to host a memorial event for foreign guests and other dignitaries.