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Thousands in tearful farewell to iconic Tamil leader Jayalalithaa

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Hundreds of thousands of mourners joined the funeral procession of Jayalalithaa, one of India’s most powerful and popular politicians, in the southern city of Chennai on Tuesday.

Jayalalithaa, chief minister of Tamil Nadu state, died late Monday night after suffering a cardiac arrest at Chennai’s Apollo Hospital. She was being treated for an acute respiratory infection at the facility since September.

All through Tuesday, massive crowds of weeping supporters paid their last respects to the leader at a public hall, where her body was kept in a casket draped in the Indian flag.

Indian leaders including Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Pranab Mukherjee were joined by high-profile personalities and film celebrities in paying homage in Chennai.

jayalalithaa-demise-dpa

Tamil leader Jayalalithaa dies at 68 – Supporters celebrate the victory of Jayaram Jayalalithaa, one of India’s most powerful politicians, and her party All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) in Chennai, India, on May 19, 2016. Jayalalithaa died Monday aged 68. (Credit Image: © Stringer/Xinhua via ZUMA Wire)

Later in the evening, a sea of mourners joined the funeral procession as a flower-decked open truck carrying Jayalalithaa’s body wound its way through the city. The cortege was to reach the Marina beach, where the final rites will be held.

Affectionately called “Amma” or “mother,” film star-turned-politician Jayalalithaa, was an iconic figure in Tamil Nadu and almost worshipped by her supporters.

Television images showed weeping women and men hitting their heads and beating their chests, crying “Amma, Amma” in grief.

Additional security has been deployed in Tamil Nadu amid apprehensions that her emotional fans may subject themselves to self-harm or trigger violence.

But the situation was largely peaceful barring sporadic incidents of some mobs pelting stones in some areas.

A mass leader, Jayalalithaa was revered, particularly by the rural poor, for the vast amount of freebies she provided – such as laptops, food mixers and grinders – ahead of the elections.

She was also credited with developing Tamil Nadu as among the most financially vibrant Indian states, with low crime rates.

In recent years, her government introduced subsidized food canteens, bottled water and salt, all named after her, which endeared her to the poor.

But critics say Jayalalithaa perpetuated a cult of personality, led an extravagant lifestyle and was deeply corrupt. She served four times as the Tamil Nadu chief minister but had to quit office twice in between due to allegations of graft.

Her loyalist and senior party leader, O Panneerselvam, was sworn in as new chief minister late Monday night.

Indian leaders including Premier Modi condoled Jayalalithaa’s passing away. “Her demise has left a huge void in Indian politics,” Modi said.

– dpa

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