Huge crowds pay tribute to Maradona in Buenos Aires and Napoli

Government extend public wake in Argentine capital after trouble flares up

 Fans in Buenos Aires queue up to view the coffin of Diego Maradona. Photograph:  Fotonoticias/Getty Images

Fans in Buenos Aires queue up to view the coffin of Diego Maradona. Photograph: Fotonoticias/Getty Images

 

Huge crowds gathered to say goodbye to Diego Maradona in Buenos Aires on Thursday, and with emotions running high clashes between police and fans broke out near the presidential palace in the Argentine capital where the soccer great was lying in state.

Seeking to allay tensions, the government extended the public wake by several hours until 7pm in the evening, giving fans more time to walk past Maradona’s coffin.

In Argentina, three days of national mourning were called for the player who led the country to a 1986 World Cup win and is revered with cult-like status. Tens of thousands took to the streets, not all wearing masks, despite fears over the Covid-19 pandemic, leaving flowers and messages at his childhood home.

“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 supporter of the star’s former club Boca Juniors said with tears in his eyes after he had filed past the coffin.

“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.

Maradona’s body lay in state in a wooden coffin at the Casa Rosada presidential palace on the central Plaza de Mayo. It was covered with the blue and white national flag and an Argentina soccer jersey with the number 10 that had been part of his nickname “D10S” – a play on “dios”, the Spanish word for God.

Starting at dawn on Thursday, thousands of fans formed a snaking line estimated at over a mile long through the streets of Buenos Aires near the plaza, after a night of mourning and reminiscing.

Held back by a barrier, the fans threw soccer shirts, flowers and other items towards the coffin as they tried to get near.

“He was someone who touched the sky with his hands but never took his feet off the ground,” president Alberto Fernandez said. He visited the coffin on Thursday.

The star’s family had been planning to hold the burial on Thursday evening at the Bella Vista cemetery on the outskirts of Buenos Aires where his parents are also interred, though sources had said it could be delayed to Friday morning.

As authorities started to close down access to the central square on Thursday afternoon, scuffles broke out, with police using rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse the increasingly unruly crowds.

In Naples, meanwhile, fans laid out flowers, children’s pictures, candles and even a bottle of wine in a rapidly expanding, makeshift shrine.

Major athletes and world leaders, including Argentina-born Pope Francis, have paid their own tributes.

Newspapers around the world ran his picture on front covers and made a play on his nickname to say “Adios”.

“Diego belongs to the people, Diego belongs to Argentina, Diego belongs to the country,” said Dario Lozano, waiting in line to view the coffin.

Maradona also battled various health problems over the years as a result of his addictions. Earlier this month, he was hospitalised for symptoms including anemia and dehydration and underwent emergency surgery for a blood clot in the brain.

On Thursday, Maradona’s lawyer, Matias Morla, said he would ask for a full investigation into the circumstances of the death, and criticised what he said was a slow response by emergency services.

In Italy, Massimo Vignati, owner of a Maradona museum in Naples, said the player had become almost like family.

“My mother was the Neapolitan mother of Maradona. He was our 12th brother,” he told Reuters surrounded my memorabilia of the player. “We must remember him with his smile as always. He made his last dribble and left us suddenly.”

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