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World leaders gather in Johannesburg for Mandela memorial

December 10, 2013 00:00 IST

President Pranab Mukherjee will be among over 90 heads of state and government who will attend an emotional memorial service in South Africa on Tuesday for anti-apartheid legend Nelson Mandela, making it one of the largest such gatherings in generations.

Scores of foreign dignitaries have already arrived in the country for the memorial service at the 95,000-seat FNB Stadium, where Mandela made his last major public appearance during the 2010 football World Cup.

President Mukherjee will lead a high-level delegation to the memorial service of the former South African president, who died at the age of 95 on December 5.

The delegation will comprise UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Leader of Opposition Sushma Swaraj, Union Commerce Minister Anand Sharma, Communist Party of India-Marxist leader Sitaram Yechury and Bahujan Samaj Party leader Satish Mishta, a Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesman said in New Delhi.

There has been an "unprecedented interest" to attend the revered statesman's funeral, South African Foreign Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane told a news conference in Johannesburg.

The other dignitaries who have confirmed their attendance include US President Barack Obama, Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff, French President Francois Hollande and British Prime Minister David Cameron.

Obama on Tuesday left for South Africa with his wife, Michelle, on board Air Force. Former President George W Bush was also on the plane, along with former first ladies Laura Bush and Hillary Clinton.

The occasion was a rare one, with four American presidents getting together in Johannesburg.

Former President Bill Clinton will be reaching South Africa from Rio de Janeiro and former President Jimmy Carter also planned to join the group here.

Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas, Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Bangladesh President Abdul Hamid and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon will also attend the event. Britain's Prince Charles will represent Queen Elizabeth II at the memorial service.

At least 91 heads of state have already confirmed their attendance and more were believed to be coming, officials said.

"The world literally is coming to South Africa," Clayson Monyela, spokesman for the Department of International Relations and Cooperation, said adding that the large number of high profile guests arriving was unprecedented.

"I don't think it has ever happened before. We will have all organisations of the world. For example, the United Nations will be represented by the Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, the African Union by Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, and we have princes and princesses, Kings and Queens coming," he said.

Logistically, Monyela said it was a tough task but government was up to the challenge in ensuring that everything goes according to plan.

Four of the biggest stadiums in Johannesburg have been mobilised to cater to the memorial service, with the FNB Stadium expected to be filled up hours before the start at 11 am (local time), he said.

Proceedings will be broadcast live to the other stadiums and to 90 more public venues across the country, as well as on television internationally.

The South African parliament on Tuesday paid tribute to Mandela with both the assembly benches and the public gallery were packed to capacity when Deputy President Kgalema Motlanthe took to the podium to open the tributary speeches.

Mandela's grandson Ndaba Mandela represented his family at the sitting.

Authorities have mobilised around 11,000 security personnel to ensure security during the service.

Some leaders are expected to travel to Mandela's rural childhood village of Qunu for his funeral service and burial on December 15.

Image: An image of Nelson Mandela is displayed on a digital screen as workers construct a stage ahead of Mandela's national memorial service at the FNB stadium in Johannesburg

Photograph: Adrees Latif/Reuters

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