Thousands of Burundians on Friday lined the road to the capital Gitega as the body of former president Pierre Nkurunziza was escorted under heavy security for a state funeral after his sudden death earlier this month.

Nkurunziza, who ruled the country for 15 years, died at the aged 55 of what the government said was “heart failure”.

But speculation is rife he may have caught the coronavirus, as his wife had been flown to Nairobi for treatment for the virus just two weeks prior.

The funeral ceremonies began with an “homage by his wife, Denise Bucumi Nkurunziza, his children and those close to him” in an intimate gathering at the hospital in the central city of Karuzi where he died on June 8, a governmental source said on condition of anonymity.

Nkurunziza died shortly after an election won by his handpicked successor Evariste Ndayishimiye, who was sworn in last week.

Friday was declared a national holiday for the funeral, and schoolchildren in uniform and citizens lined the roads waiting for the funeral convoy to pass.