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Current, Former Leaders Mourn Ex-U.S. President

11 June 2004 -- Current and former world leaders paid tribute to former U.S. President Ronald Reagan, calling him a leader who participated in historic changes and helped bring about the end of the Cold War.

Representatives of 165 countries attended the funeral ceremony at the National Cathedral in Washington today. Reagan died on 5 June at the age of 93 after suffering from Alzheimer's disease for 10 years. He was the 40th U.S. president, serving from 1981 to 1989.

U.S. President George W. Bush, delivering the main eulogy, said Reagan has become an enduring symbol for the United States. Bush called Reagan's life "a great American story" that took him from modest roots to fame as a Hollywood actor and then to the summit of U.S. politics.

(compiled from news agency reports)

Bush said Reagan maintained a strong belief in liberty, and acted to defend freedom wherever it was threatened. He said the former president inspired the work of dissidents that helped lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall.

"When he saw evil camped across the horizon, he called that evil by its name," Bush said. "There were no doubters in the prisons and gulags where dissidents spread the news, tapping to each other in code what the American president had dared to say. There were no doubters in the shipyards and churches and secret labor meetings where brave men and women began to hear the creaking and rumbling of a collapsing empire. And there were no doubters among those who swung hammers at the hated wall that the first and hardest blow had been struck by President Ronald Reagan."

Former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher in a recorded message spoke of Reagan's crucial contribution to the end of the communist era in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. In her speech, played at the funeral, Thatcher referred to Reagan as "the Great Liberator" who is now being mourned in the former communist countries as well as in the United States.

"He sought to mend America's wounded spirit, to restore the strength of the free world, and to free the slaves of communism," Thatcher said. "These were causes hard to accomplish and heavy with risk. Yet they were pursued with almost a lightness of spirit."

While analysts say no single person or country can be credited with ending the Soviet system, Thatcher said Reagan "won the Cold War" and did it "not only without firing a shot, but also by inviting enemies out of their fortresses and turning them into friends." She said his policies targeted the weaknesses of the Soviet Union until it began to collapse, both from its own failures and from the pressures of Reagan's administration.

Thatcher also mourned the loss of Reagan as her long-time ally and friend during her time as prime minister and after.

"We have lost a great president, a great American, and a great man," Thatcher said. "And I have lost a dear friend."

During the ceremony, Thatcher sat beside former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, who had dealt with Reagan both as an adversary and later as a peace partner.

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush, Reagan's vice president and successor, recalled Reagan's personal qualities in an emotional address.

"As his vice president for eight years, I learned more from Ronald Reagan than from anyone I encountered in all my years of public life," former President Bush said. "I learned kindness -- we all did. I also learned courage -- the nation did."

Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney also hailed Reagan as not only a gifted leader, but also as a friend.

Other world leaders attending the funeral included Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Afghan Transitional Administration Chairman Hamid Karzai, and interim Iraqi President Ghazi Ajil al-Yawir, as well as all the surviving former U.S. presidents.

After the funeral ceremonies in Washington, D.C., Reagan's casket began its flight to California for a sunset burial at Reagan's presidential library outside Los Angeles.

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