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August 30, 2009

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Obama leads funeral tributes

US President Barack Obama, members of Congress and the public gathered on a rainy Saturday to say goodbye to the late Senator Edward Kennedy yesterday, a towering figure in American politics who contributed to major social changes of the past 50 years.

Obama saluted Senator Kennedy for surmounting pain and suffering to become a family patriarch and personification of an American legislator.

Eulogizing the 77-year-old Kennedy, who died Tuesday, Obama called the senator "the soul of the Democratic Party?and said that in his personal life, he lived up to expectations as "the heir to a weighty legacy.?

Obama led some 1,500 people, including three former presidents, at a funeral Mass for Kennedy at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica in Kennedy's beloved Boston. He said the senator handled life's challenges with a "spirit of resilience and good humor.?

"He was a product of an age when the joy and nobility of politics prevented differences of party and philosophy from becoming barriers to cooperation and mutual respect, a time when adversaries still saw each other as patriots,?said Obama, who has often bemoaned the deep partisan divide between his Democrats, who control Congress, and Republicans.

"And that's how Ted Kennedy became the greatest legislator of our time,?he said.

In January 2008, Kennedy endorsed Obama, who was serving his first term as a senator, for the Democratic presidential nomination. Many saw the endorsement as the passing of the political torch to a new generation.

"I, like so many others in the city where he worked for nearly half a century, knew him as a colleague, a mentor, and above all, a friend,?Obama said.

Senators and US representatives of both political parties joined the large Irish-American Kennedy clan at the John F. Kennedy Library and Museum for yet another tribute, which then moved to a Roman Catholic church for a funeral where President Obama delivered the eulogy.

The gathering of dozens of lawmakers from the last several decades ?many of whom had been Kennedy's fiercest foes on legislation ?heard a brief prayer before departing for the funeral.

Hours before he was to give the eulogy, Obama met privately for about 10 minutes with Victoria Kennedy, the senator's wife.

No fewer than seven priests, 11 pallbearers and 29 honorary pallbearers took part in the funeral at Our Lady of Perpetual Help Basilica.

The political figures on hand included former presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.

Kennedy's flag-draped casket ?carried by eight servicemen ?was wrapped tightly in plastic to guard against the rain as it was removed from his brother John F. Kennedy's presidential library and put into a hearse for the drive to the church.

His wife, Victoria, closed her eyes slowly and appeared to choke back tears as she watched under cover of an umbrella.

The family had held a brief and private prayer service at the library in the morning.

The military honor guard, which had stood by Kennedy's casket while he lay in repose at the library, carried it up the church's steps.

Kennedy's casket was to be flown to Washington after the funeral and taken to Arlington National Cemetery to be buried close to his brothers, former President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert Kennedy, who were assassinated in the 1960s.


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