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Muhammad Ali laid to rest as world pays tributes

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali has been laid to rest in his hometown in the US state of Kentucky, following a funeral procession attended by tens of thousands of fans.

Ali’s private burial ceremony on Friday at Louisville’s Cave Hill Cemetery, was followed by a memorial, attended by world leaders including former US president Bill Clinton.

As the interfaith service got under way, the crowd of up to 15,000 burst into applause and chanted, “Ali! Ali!” when a Muslim religious leader welcomed the audience to “the home of the people’s champ”.

In his tribute, Clinton said Ali “is a truly free man of faith”.

Lonnie Ali, widow of the boxing legend, said her husband was “proof that adversity can make you stronger”, growing up in a segregated country.

Kevin Cosby, pastor of a Louisville church, said Ali “dared to love America’s most unloved race”, referring to African-Americans.

Earlier, people lining the streets threw flowers, and shouted, “Ali! Ali!”, as the hearse carrying his body pulled out of the funeral home. Others carried banners and photos of Ali.

The AP news agency reported that at least 100,000 people lined up the streets to say their final goodbye.

Ali died at the age of 74.

Al Jazeera’s Gabriel Elizondo, reporting from outside Ali’s childhood home, said hundreds of people waited outside their houses to see the hearse carrying the boxing champion’s body pass by his old neighbourhood.

Lawrence Montgomery, a former neighbour of Ali, told Al Jazeera that he has “mixed emotions”, knowing that Ali, who was suffering from the debilitating Parkinson’s disease for decades, is no longer in pain.

“He was a marvelous young man. Very cordial and playful,” Montgomery said, recalling that as a child Ali already wanted to be a boxer.

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The funeral procession, which went down Muhammad Ali Boulevard, ended with a private burial ceremony before the public memorial service at a sports arena.

Actor Will Smith, who played the three-time heavyweight world champion in the 2001 film “Ali”, helped carry the coffin, along with former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and family members.

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

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