STATE leaders past and present and hundreds of members of the public gathered today to pay their respects to former Prime Minister Adolfo Suarez, who died on Sunday aged 81. 

Current Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, accompanied by three of his predecessors – Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, Jose Maria Anzar, and Felipe Gonzalez – stood at the entrance to the parliament building to welcome Suarez’s coffin.

Those who had gathered to honour the former Prime Minister applauded as eight soldiers carried the coffin into the parliament building – the scene of the 1981 attempted armed coup at which Suarez stared calmly into the barrel of a gun, one of only three not hiding under his bench.

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia paid their respects to Suarez’s family, before the doors were opened to the public.

Suarez, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease for over a decade, died yesterday after being admitted to a hospital in Madrid early last week for a respiratory infection.

Hailed as a national hero, Suarez was the first democratically-elected Prime Minister following the rule of General Francisco Franco, leading the country to democracy after decades of dictatorship.

In the delicate transition period that followed Franco’s death, Suarez established political amnesty, oversaw the legalisation of political parties previously persecuted under Franco, and helped forge democratic reform.