Police prep for Mandela ceremony

CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA JON GAMBRELL Associated Press Published:

JOHANNESBURG (AP) -- Thousands of South African police officers will be on hand at a ceremony honoring Nelson Mandela in a Soweto soccer stadium, and authorities will block access to the site if crowds become too large, officials said today.

Mourners including dozens heads of state are expected to flock to the 95,000-capacity stadium for Tuesday's memorial for the anti-apartheid icon. Mandela made his last public appearance at the same stadium for the closing ceremony of the 2010 World Cup, when the venue was called Soccer City.

Lt. Gen. Solomon Makgale, a spokesman for the South African Police Service, said "thousands" of officers will direct traffic, protect mourners and help the bodyguards of visiting dignitaries.

"We will be on hand to make sure people are able to grieve in a safe environment," Makgale told Associated Press.

Makgale said a joint taskforce of police, diplomats and intelligence service personnel already have been making plans and talking to the foreign delegations who plan to attend the ceremony.

Today, ground crews cut the grass in front of FNB Stadium. Workers inside also installed bulletproof glass to protect the stage where foreign leaders, including U.S. President Barack Obama, are expected to speak.

Authorities say more than 70 heads of state to attend the ceremony. Foreign dignitaries began arriving Sunday. Those attending include Obama, British Prime Minister David Cameron, Brazilian leader Dilma Rousseff and United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"Whether we have 10 heads of state coming or 70 or 100, we do have the capacity and plans in place to facilitate their movement," Makgale said.

Roads several square miles around the stadium will be closed, and people will have to walk or take public transport to the stadium. Nearby stadiums equipped with viewing screens also will be open to accommodate overflow crowds.

Government Minister Collins Chabane told journalists today that officials "can't guess" how many people will attend or will try to enter the stadium.

"Once we see that the numbers are becoming unmanageable, ... access will be denied," Chabane said.

Mandela died Thursday at age 95. After the stadium memorial on Tuesday, Mandela's body will lie in state at the Union Buildings, the seat of government in South Africa's capital, Pretoria, from Wednesday to Friday. He will be buried Sunday in Qunu, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate's rural hometown in Eastern Cape Province.

South Africa's parliament will hold a special session today in honor of Mandela. Outside the parliament building in Cape Town, people laid flowers at the foot of a large image of Mandela. Choirs sang and a big screen projected old video footage of Mandela speaking in parliament.

Two banners flanked an entrance to the building. One showed a young Mandela in traditional garb and the other elder Mandela in suit and tie.

Hundreds of visitors left written tributes. One in imperfect English from a child named Thabiso said: "I don't know what happen if you didn't anything. Love." Another in the sea of messages said: "No words are enough to describe the worth of your actions."

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