Fri | Sep 22, 2017

Thousands mourn beloved leader in south India

Published:Wednesday | December 7, 2016 | 12:00 AM
A supporter of India's Tamil Nadu state former Chief Minister Jayaram Jayalalithaa breaks down on seeing the body of Jayalalithaa wrapped in the national flag and kept for public viewing outside an auditorium in Chennai, India, yesterday. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)

CHENNAI, India (AP):

Hundreds of thousands of people thronged the southern Indian city of Chennai yesterday to honour their late beloved leader, Jayaram Jayalalithaa, a former film actress and popular politician.

Jayalalithaa, chief minister of Tamil Nadu state, died overnight following a heart attack a day earlier.

A sea of weeping mourners surged toward the steps of a public hall where Jayalalithaa's body, draped in the Indian flag, was kept on a raised platform.

Thousands of police officers formed chains to stop the heaving crowd from surging up the steps. Men and women wept, some breaking into loud wails. Several mourners fainted from the heat and dehydration. Police said some had been keeping vigil outside the Apollo Hospital since Sunday and then walked to Rajaji Hall at daybreak.

In the evening, hundreds of thousands of people followed a slow-moving military truck carrying her body in a glass coffin to a beachside burial ground.

In New Delhi, lawmakers observed a minute's silence Tuesday before both houses of Parliament were adjourned for the day in respect for the woman whom many referred to as 'Amma', or mother.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi said Jayalalithaa's death left a "huge void in Indian politics." He flew to Chennai, where he placed a wreath on the body.

Roads leading to Chennai were clogged as people from remote villages poured into Tamil Nadu's capital to catch a last glimpse of their leader.

The Tamil Nadu government declared seven days of mourning for Jayalalithaa, who was a five-time chief minister of the state. Schools and offices were closed after authorities declared public holidays in the state for three days.

Within hours of Jayalalithaa's death, her trusted lieutenant, O. Panneerselvam, was sworn in as chief minister.

Hundreds of political leaders and film celebrities traveled to Chennai to attend Jayalalithaa's funeral.

Jayalalithaa, 68, had been hospitalised since September, suffering from a fever, dehydration and a respiratory infection.