US & Canada

State funeral honours Canada's NDP leader Jack Layton

Jack Layton's coffin is carried into Roy Thomson Hall 27 Aug
Image caption Nearly 3,000 people attended the funeral, which was also televised

Canada's prime minister, governor general, representatives of political parties and members of the public have attended the state funeral in Toronto of opposition leader Jack Layton.

They joined family members in a packed hall to pay tribute to Layton, who died aged 61 of cancer last Monday. Just five weeks ago, he stepped down as party leader to fight his illness.

His left-leaning New Democratic Party (NDP) surged to become the official opposition for the first time in May's federal elections.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered Layton's family a state funeral - an honour normally reserved for current and former prime ministers, governors general and active members of the federal cabinet.

"It's obviously been an extraordinary and very emotional week," Mr Harper said before entering Roy Thomson Hall for the ceremony.

"Canadians have had an opportunity to express their gratitude for Jack Layton's contribution to public life and I hope all of this has been some comfort to his friends and family."

The funeral was also relayed on giant screens outside the hall, watched by thousands - many holding back tears.

In a moving video tribute, Layton's wife Olivia Chow called him an "idealist, the optimist", the Associated Press reported.

Image caption Jack Layton is survived by his wife Olivia Chow (left) and two children

The left-leaning NDP, long the third-place party in Canadian federal politics, chose Jack Layton as its leader in 2003. His popularity helped the NDP to overtake the Liberals in May's elections and become the country's official opposition party.

In a letter released by the NDP after his death was announced, Layton said he remained optimistic about Canada's future and its political system.

Layton urged readers to "to cherish every moment with those you love at every stage of your journey, as I have done this summer".

He described Canada as "a great country, one of the hopes of the world".

"We can be a better one," he added, "a country of greater equality, justice, and opportunity."

Layton revealed he had prostate cancer in February 2010, but announced in July he was fighting a new cancer.

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