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Thousands gather for funeral of Muhammad Ali

Ex-US president Bill Clinton among dignitaries to join daylong tribute in Louisville, the boxing legend's birthplace.

funeral of Muhammad Ali

Tens of thousands of people have gathered in the hometown of Muhammad Ali for the boxing legend's burial and daylong memorial, expected to be attended by world leaders including former US president Bill Clinton and the king of Jordan.

The streets of Louisville, Kentucky, were expected to be lined with admirers on Friday watching the hearse carrying his body crossing the city - past his boyhood home, the city's Muhammad Ali Center and the Kentucky Center for African-American Heritage.

Ali died last week at the age of 74.

Lawrence Montgomery, a former neighbour of Ali, said that he has "mixed emotions", knowing that Ali, who was suffering from the debilitating Parkinson's disease for decades, is no longer in pain. 

"He was a marvelous young man. Very cordial and playful," Montgomery said, recalling that as a child Ali already wanted to be a boxer.

The funeral procession, which will also go down Muhammad Ali Boulevard, ends with a private burial ceremony at Louisville's Cave Hill Cemetery before a public memorial service later in the day at a sports arena.

Actor Will Smith, who played the three-time heavyweight world champion in the 2001 film "Ali", will help carry the coffin, along with former heavyweight champion Lennox Lewis and family members.

Clinton, actor Billy Crystal and broadcaster Bryant Gumbel were among those set to give eulogies at the stadium memorial service.

US President Barack Obama is not attending because of his daughter's high school graduation, but Valerie Jarrett, one of his closest aides, is to read a letter on his behalf.

King Abdullah II of Jordan, International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and former Ali opponents George Foreman and Larry Holmes were also expected to be in attendance on Friday.

Ali died on June 3 at his home in Arizona after suffering for some 30 years from Parkinson's disease, which made it difficult for him to speak in recent decades.

A Muslim prayer service in Louisville on Thursday drew thousands of mourners. 

Ali joined the Nation of Islam sect in 1964 - changing his name from Cassius Clay - but later left the group to practise orthodox Islam.

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