January 29, 2006

Thousands mourn Salvador ex-rebel chief Handal

SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of
mourners said farewell on Sunday to former communist guerrilla
chief Schafik Handal, who died last week, in the country's
biggest street gathering in over 25 years.

Handal was a senior leader of the leftist Farabundo Marti
National Liberation Front, or FMLN, rebel group that fought a
series of U.S.-backed right-wing governments throughout the
1980s in a war that claimed around 75,000 lives.

The son of Palestinian immigrants, Handal was buried after
a mass at San Salvador's cathedral attended by large crowds. He
died of a heart attack last Tuesday. He was 75.

Red flowers and flags of El Salvador, Palestine and the
FMLN adorned his cortege. Nicaraguan former President Daniel
Ortega, head of the Sandinista government in the 1980s, was
among the mourners.

"Schafik left us a very important legacy for the
revolutionary struggle," said mourner Jose Santana, 55, a
former rebel fighter.

It was the biggest gathering in the streets of San Salvador
since the 1980 funeral of murdered Archbishop Oscar Arnulfo
Romero, whose killing symbolized the terror sowed by right-wing
death squads.

Gray-bearded and feisty, Handal ran for president in March
2004 but lost to conservative Tony Saca.