MOUSSAYAH, Guinea - Tens of thousands of loyalists yesterday mourned the dictator who ruled Guinea for nearly a quarter-century, lining the roads to the lavish palace grounds where he was interred and crowding around his grave.
Lansana Conte, who took power in 1984, was the only leader many Guineans had known. Although he was widely seen as corrupt and authoritarian, many Guineans saw stability under him as preferable to the bloody civil wars elsewhere in West Africa. His death Monday at 74 has left the country, one of the world's poorest, in political turmoil.
Men in uniform wept and collapsed, and women exploded into sobs, at the funeral in Moussayah, the town where Conte was born and maintained a hotel-sized residence surrounded by manicured lawns, landscaped shrubs, and statues of animals.
Shouting security forces joined hands and formed a massive cordon around Conte's grave as thousands of people tried to push forward.
The military took Conte's body out of its coffin and placed it directly into the earth. A scrum broke out as people tried to join in throwing fistfuls of dirt into the gaping hole, and a cloud of dust rose. One of the president's guards was led away weeping.
The body was transported by helicopter to Moussayah after a public memorial in the capital, Conakry, about 40 miles to the southeast.
Capt. Moussa Camara, 49, the leader of a military coup declared hours after Conte's death, did not attend the public memorial, surprising mourners and causing speculation about the reason.
Conte had ruled Guinea since seizing power in a coup after the death of his predecessor. They had been the only two leaders since the country's 1958 independence from France.
A service inside Guinea's parliament yesterday was heavily attended by members of Conte's former government, including deposed Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare, who surrendered to coup leaders and stepped down along with dozens of other officials Thursday.
In the front row was Facinet Toure, Conte's comrade-in-arms during the 1984 coup that brought the dictator to power. He told mourners: "I ask the people of Guinea to forgive the general for all that he did that was not good."