MİDDLE EAST

Former Iraqi president Talabani's body returns to Kurdish region for burial

Reuters Agency

Jalal Talabani was brought home on Friday to be buried. Iraqi and Kurdish TV showed the Iraqi Airways plane, transporting Talabani's coffin from Germany where he died on Tuesday at age 83, landing in Sulaimaniya, his home city in northern Iraq.

The flight was given special exemption from a ban on international flights imposed a week ago by the Iraqi government following Kurdistan's independence referendum last month.

Talabani stepped down as president in 2014, after a long period of treatment following a stroke in 2012.

A 21 gun-shot salute was given for the coffin draped in the tricolour red-white-green Kurdish flag, stamped in its middle with a golden sun. A military band played the Iraqi national anthem, "Mawtini" (my nation), and Chopin's funeral march.

Iraqi President Fuad Masum, a fellow Kurd who replaced Talabani in 2014, presided the ceremony at the airport, with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif the highest ranking foreign official in attendance.

Massoud Barzani, the president of the autonomous Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) which organised the independence referendum, sat between Masum and Talabani's widow Hero.

Talabani had been too ill to express his views about the referendum but his Patriotic Union of Kurdistan party gave it only lukewarm support.

Unlike Barzani, Talabani had good ties with Iran and the Iranian-backed Shi'ite groups that effectively rule in Baghdad.

The Baghdad government, Iran and Turkey all strongly opposed the referendum.

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