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Muhammad Ali family rejects Erdogan, Jordan king request to address burial

8 June 2016 13:40

Boxing legend Muhammad Ali’s family has turned down a request by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Jordanian King Abdullah II to deliver speeches at the funeral service for the former heavyweight champion later this week.

The two leaders had announced their willingness to speak during Ali’s memorial service, which is scheduled to be held at the KFC Yum! Center in Louisville, Kentucky, on Friday.

“It’s not about who they are, it’s about the fact that we just don’t have room on the program for them,” Bob Gunnell said on Monday.

He also thanked the two leaders’ representatives for their “understanding”, saying they were “gracious” when informed about the decision.

Flowers and memorabilia are seen at a memorial for boxing legend Muhammad Ali at the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Kentucky, on June 6, 2016. ©AFP

‘Not a political snub’

Gunnell also said that two other speakers will replace the Turkish president and the Jordanian king during the Friday program, which is preceded by a public Islamic service led by California-based Imam Zaid Shakir, on Thursday.

The Yum! Center service is expected to gather 15,000 people, while Thursday’s funeral prayer can accommodate 14,000 guests, Gunnell said, adding, “Everything that we’re doing here was blessed by Muhammad Ali, and was requested.”

Muslims recite their late afternoon prayers during an interfaith service at the Louisville Islamic Center in honor of boxing legend Muhammad Ali June 5, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. The charismatic Ali, a dazzling fighter and outspoken civil rights activist who became one of the 20th century's most towering figures, died on June 3, 2016 at age 74 after health problems complicated by a long battle with Parkinson's disease. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski

Muslims recite their late afternoon prayers during an interfaith service at the Louisville Islamic Center in honor of boxing legend Muhammad Ali June 5, 2016 in Louisville, Kentucky. The charismatic Ali, a dazzling fighter and outspoken civil rights activist who became one of the 20th century’s most towering figures, died on June 3, 2016 at age 74 after health problems complicated by a long battle with Parkinson’s disease. / AFP / Brendan Smialowski

Muslims recite their late afternoon prayers during an interfaith service at the Louisville Islamic Center in honor of boxing legend Muhammad Ali in Louisville, Kentucky, on June 5, 2016. ©AFP

“He wanted the memorial service to reflect his life, and how he lived… This is not a political statement, this is not about politics, this is about how Muhammad Ali lived his life,” the Ali family spokesman said.

Ali, the three-time world heavyweight champion, died on June 3, following respiratory problems exacerbated by his longstanding battle with Parkinson’s disease.

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