President defends Jose Saramago funeral no-show

Image caption,
Thousands of mourners paid their respects to Jose Saramago

Portugal's President Anibal Cavaco Silva has defended his decision not to attend the funeral of Nobel Prize-winning author Jose Saramago.

The author, who died aged 87, moved to Lanzarote in 1992 after government opposition to his controversial work The Gospel According to Jesus Christ.

Mr Silva was Prime Minister when the book was blocked from a literary prize.

The president said he was not at Saramago's funeral because he "had never had the privilege to know him".

In 1992, the right-wing Portuguese administration removed Saramago's name from the shortlist of candidates for the European Literary Prize, saying it was offensive to the country's Catholics.

Saramago, a communist and atheist, moved to the Canary Island - where he died on Friday - complaining of censorship.

"Populist extremist"

Portugal declared two days of mourning on Saturday and Sunday for the author, whose books include Country of Sin, Cain and Blindness - turned into a 2008 film by City of God director Fernando Meirelles.

Image caption,
Saramago only became recognised for his work in his 50s

Police said more than 20,000 mourners paid their respects to Saramago's body after it was flown to Lisbon on Saturday.

A temporary chapel of rest was set up at the city hall.

Members of the crowd who turned out to pay their respects at Sunday's funeral complained to reporters about Mr Silva's absence.

Left-wing Prime Minister Jose Socrates and Jeronimo de Sousa, leader of the communist party in Portugal, were among prominent figures who did attend.

At the end of the service, the coffin, draped in a Portuguese flag, was lifted, to applause, before Saramago was cremated at a nearby cemetery.

Vatican newspaper l'Osservatore Romano on Sunday called Saramago a "populist extremist" and "an anti-religious ideologue".

The novelist won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1998, receiving praise for his "parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony" and the "rich and complex world" he had created in his works.

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