Portugal Country says goodbye to its 'father of democracy'

The founder of Portugal's Socialist Party, who served as president from 1986-96, died in hospital on Saturday.

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The Portuguese Socialist Party displayed a huge portrait of ex-leader Mario Soares outside their Lisbon headquarters, one day after his death on January 7, 2017 play

The Portuguese Socialist Party displayed a huge portrait of ex-leader Mario Soares outside their Lisbon headquarters, one day after his death on January 7, 2017

(AFP)
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Thousands on Monday paid their last respects to Mario Soares, widely seen as the father of Portugal's modern-day democracy, as his funeral cortege was set to wind its way across the capital.

The founder of Portugal's Socialist Party, who served as president from 1986-96, died in hospital on Saturday.

Monday was the start of three days of national mourning.

The funeral cortege was to leave his family home in Lisbon, where mourners laid red roses, the Socialist Party symbol, on a journey to the capital's 16th century Hieronymite monastery.

It was there that Soares, then prime minister and soon-to-be president, signed Portugal's treaty of accession to what was then the European Economic Community, a forerunner of the European Union.

His body is to lie in state in a monastery chapel until midnight.

He will be buried on Tuesday afternoon at the Prazeres cemetery in the west of the capital, alongside his wife, actress and philanthropist Maria Barroso, who died in July 2015.

Portugal's Prime Minister and fellow Socialist Antonio Costa said Saturday that the country had lost "someone who has so many times been the face and the voice of our freedom, for which he fought all his life".

"It's because of him that we escaped communism, Portuguese people didn't want it," said Maria Albuquerque, a 76-year-old shopkeeper who came to sign a condolence book at the Socialist Party headquarters.

Soares had been admitted to hospital in Lisbon on December 13, and although his condition initially showed signs of some improvement, he later fell into a deep coma and never recovered.

The hospital did not reveal the precise cause of Soares's death, but relatives say he never fully overcame a spate of illnesses in 2013. His health further deteriorated after his wife's death.

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