Argentines poured onto the streets Wednesday to pay homage to the late Nestor Kirchner, a popular former president and the most influential figure in the administration of his wife, incumbent President Cristina Kirchner.
AFP - Argentine President Cristina Kirchner appeared Thursday at the wake for her husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, whose sudden death has triggered mourning across Latin America.
It was the leader's first appearance in public since her spouse died of a heart attack Wednesday aged 60.
Accompanied by their two children and apparently holding back tears behind dark glasses, the black-clad president walked up to where Nestor Kirchner's body was lying in state inside the Casa Rosa presidential palace in Buenos Aires and placed a hand on his flag-draped coffin.
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A murmur ran through the thousands of Argentines lining up to enter the palace to pay their respects, candles and flowers in hand, when she appeared.
Speculation has been swirling as to how the widowed president will cope, given the huge influence Nestor Kirchner played behind the scenes of her administration and his role as leader of Argentina's ruling party.
The president of neighboring Uruguay, Jose Mujico, said Kirchner's death "changed the picture completely" in Argentine politics and "created a degree of relative uncertainty" that could be felt as far as his own country.
"Where will she (Cristina Kirchner) find her inspiration now?" asked Carlos Pagni, editorialist for La Nacion, one of Argentina's leading newspapers.
But ordinary Argentines expressed faith that the president would pull through.
"I have much grief but also much hope because I am convinced President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner will take on the task, because Cristina and Nestor are the same thing," said one municipal worker, Graciela Benitez, who had waited all night to be among the first to enter the palace.
Cristina Kirchner took over from her husband as head of state in 2007, continuing with policies that have fuelled strong growth following Argentina's 1999-2002 economic collapse.
Before he died, it appeared that Nestor Kirchner was preparing a return to the presidency in 2011.
Many in Argentina regarded them as the nation's most influential power couple since the iconic Juan and Eva Peron.
As well as being a key advisor role on national politics for his wife, Nestor Kirchner was the head of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) when he died, giving him a high regional profile.
The UNASUR headquarters in the Ecuadoran capital Quito said it was observing three days of mourning.
Latin American leaders started arriving from Thursday to attend Nestor Kirchner's funeral, scheduled for Friday in his hometown of Santa Cruz, in Argentina's south.
Bolivia's President Evo Morales, the first foreign leader to arrive, said he felt orphaned by the death of an "irreplaceable" man who guided him through difficult times and inspired South America.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced he, too, was flying to Buenos Aires on Thursday after canceling all his appointments and also declaring three days of mourning.
Others to attend the funeral included presidents Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Sebastian Pinera of Chile, Mujica of Uruguay, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.
Although Kirchner's death came as a shock to many, the former president had previously suffered bouts of ill health linked to his heart.
Twice this year he had undergone surgery to unblock arteries.
That frailty, coupled with his defeat in legislative elections last year, had undermined his political prospects somewhat, though he continued to command great respect.
Many Argentines hailed him as a hero when he was president for his defiant words against the International Monetary Fund, which he blamed for Argentina's economic woes.
Although often irritable and quick to anger, he forged an identity as a strong leader for his efforts to pay off some of the debt Argentina had defaulted on.
Questions were raised over his propriety in office and afterward, however, when it was revealed he and his wife had accumulated an 11-million-dollar fortune while many others in Argentina saw their own wealth decimated.
Date created : 2010-10-28