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Hundreds of Haitians, from the president to ordinary citizens, paid their respects Friday to late former leader Rene Preval, a champion of the poor, on the eve of his state funeral.

Preval, who served two terms as the country's president, died on March 3 at age 74. His sister told local media that he had suffered a heart attack

With a reputation as an honest and efficient administrator, Preval served as president of Haiti -- the poorest country in the Western hemisphere with a long history of political violence -- in 1996-2001 and again from 2006-2011.
His body was displayed in an open, flag-draped casket in the gardens of the museum dedicated to the history of Haiti and the heroes of its drive for independence.

The site is not far from where the presidential palace once stood. It was destroyed in the country's devastating earthquake in January 2010 -- which took place during Preval's second term -- and has not been rebuilt.

"I have just hailed the departure of a friend, a close collaborator who also was at times a good teacher for me," Enex Jean-Charles, a former prime minister, told AFP.

He remembered Preval as a man who was "simple, humble and deeply concerned about Haiti's problems."

Haitian President Jovenel Moise and his wife offered Preval's widow Elisabeth their condolences.

Under the watchful eye of uniformed police, ordinary citizens also walked around Preval's casket.

"It's very important for me to come pay him my final respects," whispered Fanor Guerlin. "With a heavy heart, I can say that I loved him and it hurts to see him in the coffin," the 40-year-old man said, tears brimming in his eyes.

Attracted by the crowd, a number of students in uniforms passed through the museum gate.

"I saw him on television but I don't have many memories of him or what he did," said 17-year-old Ketia Laurent.

"In fact, it's sad be because I hardly know anything about him. It was only since he died that I learned what he did," she said.

Preval's state funeral will be held Saturday morning in Port-au-Prince.
His body will be buried in the afternoon in Marmelade, the village where his father was born and where he spent his childhood, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of the capital.

Since the end of the Duvalier dictatorship in 1986, Preval has been the only Haitian leader to have completed two terms as president, the constitutional limit, without suffering a coup or having to flee into exile.