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Mourners Gather to Honor South Africa's Mandela

Thousands of mourners are gathering for Tuesday's memorial service honoring Nelson Mandela, the South African anti-apartheid leader who died last week at the age of 95.

People were lining up at 5 a.m. in chilly, rainy weather, and hours before the service began they sang and cheered both inside and outside of the Johannesburg stadium where more than 80 world leaders were expected to gather.

VOA's Anita Powell, who is at the stadium, said security around the venue was tight with road closures and checkpoints, but that the atmosphere seemed relaxed.

"I think there's a great feeling of goodwill in the air almost, and people don't think that anything bad could possibly happen today. I really get that sense from all of the security personnel I've talked to. And that's understandable; we're here to celebrate a man who everybody feels good about."

U.S. President Barack Obama, Cuban President Raul Castro, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and members of Mr. Mandela's family are among those scheduled to speak at the event.

Mr. Mandela became country's first black president in the 1990s after being imprisoned for 27 years for leading the struggle against his country's white apartheid rule.

The service is being held in Johannesburg's main stadium used for the 2010 World Cup football (soccer) finals. Heavy security is planned for the expected crowd of 80,000. The venue is also the place where Mr. Mandela made his last public appearance at the closing ceremony of the first-ever World Cup in Africa.

Along with President Obama, the U.S. delegation includes first lady Michelle Obama and former Presidents George W. Bush, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter.

George H.W. Bush is the only living former U.S. president who will not attend the event. His spokesman said the 89-year-old Mr. Bush is no longer able to travel long distances.

American talk show host Oprah Winfrey and Irish singer-activist Bono, as well as British billionaire Richard Branson are also expected to attend.

Mr. Mandela's remains will lie in state at the Union Buildings in Pretoria -- the official seat of the South African government -- on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

The memorials and events will culminate in Mr. Mandela's burial on December 15 in his boyhood home village of Qunu.

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