34 years after his death, Ethiopia's last emperor is laid to rest

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The Independent Online

A quarter of a century after dying in mysterious circumstances, the last emperor of Ethiopia is finally to be laid to rest. Haile Selassie, the feudal autocrat who is revered as a god by Rastafarians across the world, will be honoured with a state funeral in the capital, Addis Ababa, tomorrow.

A quarter of a century after dying in mysterious circumstances, the last emperor of Ethiopia is finally to be laid to rest. Haile Selassie, the feudal autocrat who is revered as a god by Rastafarians across the world, will be honoured with a state funeral in the capital, Addis Ababa, tomorrow.

It will be the emperor's second burial since his death in 1974, one year after being deposed by rebels led by Mengistu Haile Mariam. Officially he died of natural causes but supporters maintain he was murdered by the Marxist regime. His body was exhumed from underneath a toilet in 1992 and moved to a mausoleum, where it has been preserved since.

Tomorrow's ceremony marks the rehabilitation of Africa's last great monarch, who was returned to power by British Commonwealth troops during the Second World War, as a national figure in his homeland. Nevertheless, the Ethiopian government says he was a ruthless tyrant who imposed great suffering on his subjects.

Last Thursday hundreds of royal supporters packed the main Ethiopian Orthodox cathedral in Addis Ababa to mark the 70th anniversary of his coronation. The requiem mass was attended by his daughter, Princess Tenangne Work, and a Rastafarian delegation from Trinidad and Tobago.

Rastafarians continue to believe the emperor, whose other name was Ras Tafari, is an African deity on a par with Jesus Christ. Many refused to believe news of his death in 1975, insisting it was a trick of the white media to undermine their faith.

But the emperor was a reluctant god - officials once turned a group of Rasta devotees away from the palace gates, fearing they might upset Selassie, a devout Christian.

However he made many grand claims of his own. He declared himself a direct descendant of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba and took the title of "Lord of Lords, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, and Light of the World" at his extravagant coronation ceremony in 1930.

The Ethiopian government has more earthly concerns. It says it is determined to recover millions of stolen dollars it claims the emperor stashed in Western banks. However royalists say they have raised just $20,000 (£14,000) for the reburial ceremony.

Yesterday, a British academic launched a campaign for the return of valuable carvings, gold chalices and 400 manuscripts stolen from the Ethiopian church of Magdala by a British expedition in 1868. Professor Richard Pankhurst, of the Institute of Ethiopian studies in Addis Ababa, said he had the support of the London Mayor Ken Livingstone to have the treasures returned. Most of the manuscripts are kept in the British National Library.

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