Friend and foe, world leaders coming together for Mandela

Mon Dec 9, 2013 3:58pm EST
 
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By Ed Cropley and Pascal Fletcher

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Nearly 90 leaders from across the world, some of them locked in enmity, are flying to South Africa for memorials to Nelson Mandela that will hail one of humanity's great peacemakers.

Officials said on Monday that U.S. President Barack Obama and Raul Castro from Cuba, Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe and Britain's David Cameron will be among those attending Tuesday's main ceremony in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium - a turnout that reflects the global appeal of South Africa's first black leader, who died on Thursday aged 95.

"The whole world is coming to South Africa," foreign ministry spokesman Clayson Monyela said, playing down concerns about logistics and security of such a large event organized at such short notice.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani would also be there, Monyela said, raising the possibility of a first face-to-face meeting with Obama. However, Rouhani's name was not on an initial official list of attendees.

Israel, once an ally of the apartheid rulers who kept Mandela behind bars for 27 years, is sending neither its prime minister nor president, Israeli officials said.

Much of the logistical plan is based on South Africa's hosting of the 2010 soccer World Cup. Even though Pretoria refused to discuss Mandela's funeral arrangements before his death, it has been laying the preparations for years.

"We're obviously not starting from scratch in terms of organization," Monyela said. "We've got a system that kicks into play whenever you've got events of this magnitude."

Besides security, the memorial at the 95,000-seat stadium near Soweto presents officials with a diplomatic minefield - trying to avoid a chance standoff in the rest rooms, say, between Mugabe and Tony Blair, the former British prime minister whom he has denounced as a "little boy" and a "liar".   Continued...

 
Artists and activists attend a candlelight vigil in tribute of former South Africa President Nelson Mandela, in Dhaka December 9, 2013. REUTERS/Andrew Biraj