July 17, 2002

Hundreds mourn former Dominican Republic president

                 SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic (AP) -- Hundreds of mourners filled
                 the National Palace on Wednesday for the state funeral of former President
                 Joaquin Balaguer, the longtime leader whom many considered a father of
                 modern Dominican politics.

                 Revered by some and reviled by others, Balaguer retained enormous sway even
                 after leaving the presidency in 1996. He died of heart failure Sunday at 95.

                 "There has never existed in Dominican history a person with so much influence as
                 this exceptional man," President Hipolito Mejia said in his eulogy.

                 "In this palace where he exercised his power for 22 years, at times with a strong
                 hand and at times with gloves of silk, Joaquin Balaguer has no substitute in
                 Dominican politics," he said.

                 Mejia's audience included officials from the United States, Haiti, Cuba and Puerto

                 Outside the palace, hundreds of people waved flags and posters with images of
                 Balaguer, and followed his coffin to the Our Lady of Peace church after Mejia's
                 eulogy. The coffin was covered in flowers atop an open trailer towed by a green

                 Mourners in the procession -- some elderly and others barefoot -- grew angry that
                 the coffin was being towed too quickly and forced the driver to slow down after
                 banging on the vehicle and shouting "Go slower!"

                 At the church, about 50 people pushed through a police barricade to make their
                 way inside.

                 Mourners threw flowers and a choir sang as the coffin was carried down the aisle.
                 More than 1,000 people attended the Mass, with most crowded outside.

                 Balaguer's body was to be buried at Santo Domingo's Christ the Redeemer
                 Cemetery later Wednesday.

                 Balaguer held the presidency from 1966-1978 and 1986-1996, and was a staunch
                 anti-communist ally of the United States.

                 The conservative leader largely escaped blame for atrocities committed early in his
                 rule and under his mentor, military dictator Rafael Trujillo, who was assassinated in

                 After he assumed power, hundreds of people were kidnapped or disappeared. Later,
                 his human rights record improved.

                 One of Latin Americ a's last "caudillos," or strongmen, Balaguer presented more the
                 image of kindly country doctor than a stern ruler. He was little more than 5 feet tall,
                 lame and squinted from behind thick-framed glasses.

                 After winning 1994 elections marred by fraud charges, Balaguer reluctantly stepped
                 down under domestic and U.S. pressure in 1996.

                 He was the last of a trio of political leaders who vied for power for 40 years, along
                 with Juan Bosch and Jose Francisco Pena Gomez. Pena Gomez died in 1998, and
                 Bosch died last year.

                 Despite widespread respect for their leadership, none was able to alleviate the
                 poverty that afflicts many of the country's 8 million people.

                  Copyright 2002 The Associated Press