Thousands pay tribute to Muhammad Ali in hometown memorial service

Tens of thousands of people lined the streets of Muhammad Ali's hometown as his coffin was driven on a funeral procession Friday honouring the boxing legend, who died last week at 74.

Mourners in Louisville, Kentucky, stood quietly as a motorcade including his hearse wound its way through the city, passing by his boyhood home, the city's Muhammad Ali Centre, his then-segregated high school and the Kentucky Centre for African-American Heritage.

The procession route includes Muhammad Ali Boulevard and ends with a private burial ceremony at Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery before a public memorial service Friday afternoon at a sports arena.

Actor Will Smith, who played the three-time heavyweight world champion in the 2001 film Ali, was to be a pallbearer, along with former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and family members.

Former president Bill Clinton, actor Billy Crystal and broadcaster Bryant Gumbel were to give eulogies at the stadium memorial service.

President Barack Obama is not attending because of his daughter's high school graduation, but Valerie Jarrett, one of his closest aides, is to read a letter on his behalf.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and former Ali boxing opponents George Foreman and Larry Holmes were expected to be in attendance.

Ali died June 3 after being hospitalized near his home in Phoenix, Arizona, after suffering respiratory distress. He had been afflicted for some 30 years from Parkinson's disease, which made it difficult for him to speak in recent decades.

A Muslim prayer service in Louisville on Thursday drew thousands of mourners. Speakers praised Ali's legacy and read portions from the Koran.

Ali joined the black separatist Nation of Islam sect in 1964 - changing his name from Cassius Clay - but later left the group to practise orthodox Islam.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who attended the Thursday funeral service, cut short his visit after he was denied the chance to recite from the Koran, according to a news report Friday.

The Dogan news agency said Erdogan and Mehmet Gormez, head of Turkey's Religious Affairs Department, wanted to place a piece of cloth from Mecca on the coffin, but were unable to, prompting the Turkish delegation to leave.

A Turkish official confirmed the two-day trip was cut short and the delegation was returning home, but declined to state a reason.

Erdogan's bodyguards had a shoving match with security guards while in Louisville, the report said.

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25
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