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World leaders and celebrities prepare for historic goodbye to Nelson Mandela

Monday, 9 December 2013 - 9:01am IST | Agency: Daily Telegraph

At least 50 world leaders, including Barack Obama, David Cameron and the president of Iran, will join celebrities such as Bono, Oprah Winfrey and the Spice Girls at a four-hour memorial service to honour Nelson Mandela. One of the biggest gatherings ever known for a head of state, religious leader or celebrity will take place in a 95,000-seat football stadium in Soweto, Johannesburg, on Tuesday.

Obama is likely to deliver an address at the event, while some of the pop stars attending may perform, although the programme remains a closely-guarded secret. The memorial service throws up nearly unheard-of challenges for the South African government and the international security services charged with protecting important guests. The government has confirmed that any member of the public is welcome to the stadium without prior accreditation. In an attempt to prevent terrorist scares, a large portion of Johannesburg's arterial roads and airspace will be closed.

Maite Nkoana-Mashabane, the South African foreign minister, said there had been "unprecedented interest" in attending the service. It is understood that world leaders, particularly those with large entourages and special security needs, have been encouraged to attend the memorial in Johannesburg rather than the private funeral in Mr Mandela's rural home village of Qunu on Sunday. Those who have already confirmed their attendance include Obama and his family, the former US presidents Jimmy Carter and George W Bush and their wives, and Bill Clinton and his family.

The Obamas, Carters and Bushes will depart after that service. Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, who are close friends of the Mandela family, will stay on for the funeral. Buckingham Palace has confirmed that the Prince of Wales will represent the Queen at the funeral in Qunu on Sunday, along with the Duchess of Cornwall, but will not make the journey for tomorrow's memorial service.

The Prince met Mandela on several occasions in Britain and South Africa, most notably during a "very enjoyable" joint visit in Johannesburg with the Spice Girls in 1997. Hassan Rouhani, the new Iranian president, said he would be at the memorial service, along with Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president; Dilma Rousseff, the Brazilian president; Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor; and Xi Xinping, the Chinese president. Mahinda Rajapaksa, the Sri Lankan president who recently hosted the Commonwealth summit despite concerns over human rights abuses, has confirmed his attendance. Countries which yesterday were yet to confirm who or if they would send anyone include Russia, Israel and Libya. Syria has not been in contact, a spokesman said.

Celebrities planning to attend include Oprah Winfrey, the talk-show host, Bono, the Irish pop star, Annie Lennox, the singer, Sir Richard Branson, the British tycoon, and Peter Gabriel, the pop star and anti-apartheid activist. Mandela's family yesterday appealed to South Africans and those who respected him to "keep his spirit with us" by upholding his values. They said in a message to the nation: "As we lift our eyes to the dawn of a new era without a family elder at our sides, we hope you will join us with all the passion, fervour, prayer and support with which you help us mourn his passing and to keep his dream alive."

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