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Memorial held for Zambia's first president Kenneth Kaunda

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Mourners waving white handkerchiefs, Kenneth Kaunda's trademark symbol, gathered at a Lusaka stadium on Friday for a state memorial service for Zambia's first president, who died last month aged 97.

Neatly distanced in compliance with COVID-19 social distancing rules, scores of mourners stood on the terraces, dancing to dirges and solemn music played by a military band.

A hero of the struggle against white rule in southern Africa, Kaunda died on June 17 at a military hospital where he had been admitted with pneumonia.

He always carried a white handkerchief -- an item that he said symbolised love and peace, and which he started carrying while incarcerated during the struggle for independence.

A casket draped in the Zambian flag was driven on a gun carriage into the 60,000-capacity National Heroes Stadium and placed under a white marquee.

Foreign dignitaries in Lusaka to pay their respects include South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Kenya's Uhuru Kenyatta and Ghana's Nana Akufo-Addo, as well as junior British foreign minister James Duddridge, representing Zambia's former colonial ruler.

Who was Kaunda?

Kaunda, popularly known by his initials of KK, was president of Zambia for 27 years, taking the helm after the country gained independence in October 1964.

He headed the main nationalist group, the left-of-centre United National Independence Party (UNIP).

He was nicknamed by some "Africa's Gandhi" for his non-violent, independence-related activism in the 1960s.

He hosted many of the movements fighting for independence or black equality in other countries around the continent -- sometimes at a heavy cost.

But his popularity at home waned as he became increasingly autocratic and banned all opposition parties.

He eventually ceded power in the first multi-party elections in 1991, losing to trade unionist Fredrick Chiluba.

Zambia declared a period of mourning after his death, with flags flown at half mast, while his body was taken around the country for the public to pay their respects.

He will be buried next Wednesday at the country's presidential burial site situated opposite the cabinet office in Lusaka.

Some taxi drivers in the capital Lusaka drove with their headlamps on as a way of mourning the founding leader.

"We have agreed here that we will be driving with our lights on as a way of mourning Dr Kaunda, shikulu (grandfather). The loss is too huge, not only here in Zambia but the entire world," driver Lazarus Daka, 37, told AFP.

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