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Tens of Thousands Gather for Mandela Memorial

Tens of thousands of people have gathered in Johannesburg, South Africa to say goodbye to Nelson Mandela, who died last week at the age of 95.

A steady rain did not dampen the spirit of the crowd, many of whom sang and danced in tribute to the anti-apartheid leader even before the memorial service began.



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 South Africa's first black president in 1994, after being imprisoned for 27 years for his role in the struggle against 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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