Former RMI President, Paramount Chief Passes Away In Majuro

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One month of national mourning declared for Jurelang Zedkaia

By Giff Johnson

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (Marianas Variety, Oct. 12, 2015) – Flags were lowered to half mast and a month of national mourning was declared Saturday to honor former Marshall Islands President and paramount chief Jurelang Zedkaia.

Zedkaia, 65, died in Majuro Wednesday night of an apparent heart attack.

He was elected President of the Marshall Islands in 2009, following a vote of no-confidence that ousted President Litokwa Tomeing, also a traditional chief.

A 24-year veteran of parliament, Zedkaia was never identified with a particular political party and was seen as a potential ally by all factions in the national parliament.

After the successful vote of no-confidence against Tomeing in 2009, he was courted by both the government party and opposition leaders, eventually joining the opposition that propelled him to a two-year stint as president.

Despite his high traditional rank, Zedkaia had an easy going manner and preferred wearing a T-shirt and baseball cap over a suit and tie.

He could often be seen at the capital building after a formal event handing his jacket and tie to a staff member. He enjoyed fishing and was an accomplished ukulele player who enjoyed entertaining at any event.

As the traditional leader for Majuro, he oversaw landholdings throughout the capital atoll as well as dealing with customary disputes and activities. His title passes to his younger brother.

In declaring a month of national mourning, President Christopher Loeak, who is also from a chiefly family, said "our hearts are laden with grief at this time of great loss. Iroijlaplap Jurelang Zedkaia will be remembered with gratitude for the contributions made toward our country’s development and growth."

He will be accorded a state funeral at the parliament building early in the week and then funeral activities at the main Assembly of God church are expected to follow for several days before his burial in a cemetery for traditional leaders in a rural section of Majuro Atoll.

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