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World's first woman prime minister given state funeral

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October 15, 2000 


COLOMBO (AP) - Sirimavo Bandaranaike, the world's first woman prime minister, was buried next to her husband's grave Saturday at her ancestral home.

Bandaranaike, 84, died of a heart attack Oct. 10, shortly after casting her ballot in the parliamentary election that saw her daughter, President Chandrika Kumaratunga, gaining enough seats and supporters to form a new coalition government.

Bandaranaike had requested burial instead of the traditional Buddhist cremation on a funeral pyre.

"Mrs. B," as she was popularly known, was also survived by a son, Anura, a member of the main opposition United National Party; and another daughter, Sunethra, a philanthropist who is not involved in politics.

Bandaranaike's husband, Solomon, became prime minister in 1956, but was shot to death by a deranged Buddhist monk in 1959. The widow led the party in the next elections and became prime minister in 1960, becoming the first woman in history elected to head a national government.

She was prime minister three times since 1960, lastly in the Cabinet her daughter appointed in 1994.

Bandaranaike resigned in August to allow her daughter to appoint a hard-liner with strong connections to the powerful Buddhist clergy to help in the campaign.

Heads of diplomatic missions and politicians attended the funeral at Horagolla, 35 kilometers (21 miles) northeast of Colombo. Neighboring India was represented by Vice President Krishan Kant. Members of the public were subjected to body searches.

Kumaratunga declared Friday and Saturday national days of mourning and forbade the sale of liquor and fresh meat in keeping with the practice of Buddhists, who are the majority in the country that also includes Hindus, Muslims and Christians.

Troops lined the street along which Bandaranaike's coffin was taken in a military procession. Hundreds of people stood under a blazing afternoon sun to glimpse the flower covered casket. Many onlookers threw petals in the path of the coffin, which was lowered into the ground after a 19-gun salute.

Buddhist, Catholic, Hindu and Muslim priests offered prayers during the funeral, which was broadcast live on national television.

"She won the affection of all religions and races," said D. M. Jayaratne, a governing party lawmaker who delivered the funeral oration.

Sinhalese, who are mostly Buddhists, make up 76 per cent of Sri Lanka's 18.6 million population; while Tamils, mainly Hindus, make up 14 percent. The remaining 10 percent are Muslims, Christians and other religions.

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