29 Apr 2004

Thousands arrive to pay respects to Fiji's Mara

6:28 am on 29 April 2004

Thousands of people have been arriving at Government House in Suva to pay their last respects to Fiji's independence leader, Ratu Sir Kamisese Mara.

Ratu Mara's flag-draped casket was carried on a gun carriage from hospital through the streets of Suva to Government House, where it will lie in state until tomorrow's state funeral service.

Traditional conch shells will blow without stop at Government House, signifying mourning, until the casket leaves.

Among the early arrivals to pay respects was Queen Halevalu Mata'aho of Tonga who came with a large delegation, bearing traditional gifts from the Kingdom.

Scores of other delegations representing Fiji's judiciary, business communities, religious organisations, professional bodies, provincial councils and friends are also arriving to say their farewells.

Meanwhile, occupational health and safety officials are clamping down on crowded boats.

Thousands of people have been boarding over-loaded boats, trying to get to Ratu Mara's home island of Lakeba, where the burial will take place on Monday.