‘Diego is the people’: Grieving Argentines bid farewell to Maradona
Argentines lined up in the streets of Buenos Aires on Thursday to say goodbye to football legend Diego Maradona, whose casket lay in state at the Casa Rosada presidential palace draped in an Argentine flag and his famous number 10 shirt.
Some threw bottles and pieces of metal fencing at police near the Casa Rosada as officers at one point used tear gas to try to control them.
Fans blew kisses as they passed Maradona's wooden casket in the main lobby of the presidential building, some striking their chests with closed fists and shouting, “Let’s go Diego.”
The casket was covered in an Argentine flag and the number 10 shirt he famously wore on the national team. Dozens of other shirts of different football teams, tossed in by weeping visitors, were scattered on and around the casket.
But with the time for viewing the coffin at the palace drawing short, police moved to cut off the back end of the crowd, enraging fans who hurled rocks and other objects at police, who responded with rubber bullets.
Maradona died on Wednesday of a heart attack in a house outside Buenos Aires where he was recovering from brain surgery earlier this month.
Family, friends followed by teammates
Open visitation started at 6:15am local time (0915 GMT) after a few hours of privacy for family and close friends. The first to bid farewell were Maradona's daughters and close family members. His ex-wife Claudia Villafane came with his daughters Dalma and Gianinna. Later came Veronica Ojeda, also his ex-wife, with their son Dieguito Fernando.
Maradona's daughter Jana, whom he had recognised as his child only a few years ago, also attended the visitation.
Then came former teammates of the 1986 World Cup-winning squad including Oscar Ruggeri. Other Argentine footballers, such as Boca Juniors’ Carlos Tevez, showed up, too.
‘The greatest thing that happened to me’
The lines started forming outside the Casa Rosada only hours after Maradona’s death was confirmed and grew to several blocks. Among those present were the renowned barra bravas (hooligan) fans of Boca Juniors, one of his former clubs.
"Maradona for me is the greatest thing that happened to me in life. I love him as much as my father and it's like my old man died," Cristian Montelli, 22, a Boca Juniors fan said with tears in his eyes.
"If I die young, hopefully upstairs I can play ball and watch a Boca game with him," added Montelli, who had a tattoo of Maradona's face on his leg.
The first fan to visit was Nahuel de Lima, 30, using crutches to move because of a disability.
“He made Argentina be recognised all over the world, who speaks of Maradona also speaks of Argentina," de Lima told The Associated Press. “Diego is the people .... Today the shirts, the political flags don't matter. We came to say goodbye to a great that gave us a lot of joy.”
A huge mural of Maradona's face was painted on the tiles that cover the Plaza de Mayo, near the Casa Rosada, which was decorated with a giant black ribbon at the entrance.
A giant screen in front of the Casa Rosada displayed historic photos of Maradona to the passing fans, most but not all of whom wore masks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
(FRANCE 24 with AP, REUTERS)
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