Argentina fans, police clash over access to Maradona wake

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Fans mourn as the funeral cortege of Argentinian late football legend Diego Maradona leaves the Casa Rosada government house in Buenos Aires. Photo: Juan Mabromata/AFP via Getty Images
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Huge crowds gathered to say goodbye to Diego Maradona 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.

Thousands of people surrounded the pink-hued Casa Rosada and there was a febrile atmosphere more akin to a rowdy soccer game than a formal wake, with fans clambering up the palace gates to get as close as possible to their hero.

Images on local TV appeared to show canisters of tear gas being thrown, with riot police and others on motorbikes trying to hold back the crowd, desperate to pay respects to Maradona who died on Wednesday, aged 60.

Thousands of fans had been queueing for more than a mile through the streets of Buenos Aires since early on Thursday to see the casket, which was lying in state before a later burial.

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“We were calm lining up and suddenly, the police started to fire rubber bullets. Crazy, I just want to say goodbye to Diego,” Rubén Hernández (35) told Reuters.

On Thursday afternoon, the coffin was taken in a hearse on its way to a cemetery on the outskirts of the city.

The death of Maradona, following a heart attack, has sparked mourning worldwide and celebrations of a true sporting star, who was a genius on the soccer field but lived a life marred by struggles with addiction.

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National mourning

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.

During the day, 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.

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Starting at dawn on Thursday, thousands of fans had formed a snaking line estimated at over 1.6km long through the streets of Buenos Aires near the plaza, after a night of mourning and reminiscing.

Fans who got inside the palace – many missed out – threw soccer shirts, flowers and other items towards the casket.

“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 casket on Thursday.

The star's family plans 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.

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