South America

Fans and police clash in Argentina over access to Diego Maradona's wake

Thousands of fans had been queuing for kilometres through the streets of Buenos Aires since early on Thursday to see the casket.

Argentine police and fans who were lined up to see the casket of soccer icon Diego Maradona have clashed as authorities moved to shut down access to the Casa Rosada presidential palace ahead of a planned shutoff for the public wake.

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 queuing for more than a mile through the streets of Buenos Aires since early on Thursday to see the casket, which is lying in state before a planned burial later in the evening.

Fans confront riot police as they try to reach the Casa Rosada presidential palace to pay tribute to late Argentine football legend Diego Maradona.
Fans confront riot police as they try to reach the Casa Rosada presidential palace to pay tribute to late Argentine football legend Diego Maradona.
AFP

“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.

Addressing the tensions, interior minister Gustavo Russo said that the procession with the casket would look to travel along the route where people were waiting, to allow people to say their goodbyes.

Argentines are formally bidding farewell to the soccer legend, a beloved athlete whose life was marred by struggles with addiction.

Maradona, who died aged 60 after a heart attack at home on Wednesday, will lie in state at the pink-hued Casa Rosada presidential palace from Thursday through Saturday.

Three days of national mourning were declared by President Alberto Fernandez.

Diego Maradona displayed on a balcony of the presidential palace known as the Casa Rosada or Pink House.
AP

"His unparalleled footballing skill transformed him into one of the best-known people in the world, crossing frontiers and being universally recognised as the world's best player," said the official mourning decree.

Major athletes and world leaders, including Argentine-born Pope Francis and soccer superstar Lionel Messi, have paid tribute to Maradona.

"A very sad day for all Argentines and football," Messi said via social media.

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"He leaves us but does not leave, because Diego is eternal.

"I take all the good moments lived with him and send condolences to all his family and friends. RIP."

Tens of thousands of Argentines took to the streets on Wednesday to mourn him, leaving flowers and messages at his childhood home and former club Boca Juniors.

People gathered  in front of the Casa Rosada building to attend the funeral ceremony of Diego Armando Maradona in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
People gathered in front of the Casa Rosada building to attend the funeral ceremony of Diego Armando Maradona in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Mariano Gabriel Sanchez/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

'Diego,' 'Pelusa,' or simply 'God,' as Maradona was known, was revered in Argentina and had a long career that included leading the South American nation to World Cup glory in 1986.

That tournament included a quarter-final game against England where Maradona scored two of the best-known World Cup goals ever - an illicit 'hand of God' goal and one that followed an incredible swerving, dribble.

Maradona battled various health problems over the years as a result of his addictions.

Earlier this month, he was hospitalised for symptoms including anaemia and dehydration and underwent emergency surgery for a subdural hematoma.

A 2005 television clip circulated in local media on Wednesday in which Maradona shared what he would say at his own funeral.

"Thank you for having played football, because it is the sport that gave me the most joy, the most freedom," Maradona said.

"It is like touching the sky with my hands. Thanks to the ball."

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