Sunday 21 January 2018

Turkish leader to speak at funeral of Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali. Photo: PA
Muhammad Ali. Photo: PA

Nick Allen

Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, has said he will speak at the funeral of Muhammad Ali (pictured), as the boxer's body was returned to Kentucky yesterday ahead of the ceremonies at the end of the week.

Ali's casket, draped in a black cloth inscribed with golden Arabic writing, was brought on a private Boeing 737 to his home town of Louisville from Arizona, where he died on Friday aged 74 of a respiratory illness after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.

Lonnie Ali, the boxer's widow, and dozens of relatives were on board the plane and accompanied the body in an eight-car motorcade from Louisville airport to a funeral home.

Mr Erdogan was thought to have been invited owing to Ali's strong links with Turkey. The boxer had links with Refah, or the Welfare Party - Mr Erdogan's former political party - and visited the country on their invitation.

The family later released further details of the funeral arrangements. They will include a 30-minute public Islamic service on Thursday led by Imam Zaid Shakir, a Muslim American scholar.

It will be held at Freedom Hall, where Ali defeated Willi Besmanoff in 1961 in his last fight in Louisville.

Bob Gunnell, the fighter's spokesman, said: "Ali spoke of inclusiveness his entire life. We want this to be inclusive of everyone."

The following day, 15,500 people will attend a public inter-faith service at a basketball arena, which will be watched by millions around the world.

Speakers will include Lonnie Ali, his eldest child Maryum Ali, former US president Bill Clinton, Mr Erdogan, Jordan's King Abdullah II, comedian Billy Crystal, and representatives of the Protestant, Catholic, Buddhist, and Mormon faiths.

Attallah Shabazz, the daughter of Malcolm X, will give a poetry reading.

President Barack Obama has been invited but has yet to confirm whether he will attend the funeral.

The family said Ali was the "people's champion" and he had wanted a "celebration open to everyone".

Hana Ali, his daughter, said: "He belonged to the world and I'm okay with that." She said her father had experienced a recurring dream in his later years about walking down the road in Louisville to the sound of cheering and then taking off flying.

Before a private burial Ali's hearse will be driven on a 19-mile procession though the streets where he grew up and past his modest childhood home.

Laila Ali, another daughter, said her father had been intimately involved in making the funeral plans.

She said: "My father wanted it in an arena so everybody can come and be there. Trust me, if 10 million people come that's not going to be enough for him. He's going to be like 'That's it?'"

Irish Independent

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