Friend and foe, world leaders coming together for Mandela

Mon Dec 9, 2013 7:57am EST
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By Ed Cropley and Pascal Fletcher

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - More than 70 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.

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 send-off in Johannesburg's Soccer City stadium, reflecting 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 the logistics and security of such a large event organized at only five days notice.

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

Much of the logistical plan is based on South Africa's hosting of the 2010 soccer World Cup. And though Pretoria refused to talk about 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".

Those close to Madiba, the clan name by which Mandela was known, say he would have wanted handshakes, not head-butts.   Continued...