Flags have been lowered to half-staff across Finland, and in Brussels, for the state funeral of former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari.
Ahtisaari, a Nobel Peace Laureate, died in October aged 86 after a long illness.
On a dreary Helsinki Friday, crowds of wellwishers stood in the rain along the route of the funeral cortege to pay their last respects to the former president.
The sombre procession was lead by police officers on horseback, as it made its way from the city's Lutheran cathedral, paused briefly outside the Presidential Palace where Ahtisaari served from 1994 to 2000, and continued to Hietaniemi cemetery a few kilometres away where Ahtisaari was laid to rest alongside other Finnish presidents.
His widow, Eeva, and son, Marko, each threw a red rose into the grave as rain fell gently.
More than 800 guests, including the leaders of countries where Ahtisaari helped reach peace accords, attended the cathedral service.
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, were all in attendance.
"He was a great Finn, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate. He put his own stamp on both Finnish history and international history,” said the current Finnish President Sauli Niinistö during 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.
Martti Ahtisaari's lifelong work for peace
During his lifelong work for peace, Martti 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 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. In Brussels, flags were lowered outside the EU Commission building
Ahtisaari was "a tireless defender of peace and his words 'All conflicts can be resolved' should be engraved in our collective memory as Europeans," the Commission wrote on its social media channels.