Tens of thousands of fans, many weeping but eager to honor Diego Maradona, filed past the coffin of Argentina’s most iconic soccer star on Thursday.
Fans blew kisses as they passed Maradona’s wooden casket in the main lobby of the presidential Casa Rosada, some strike their chests with closed fists and shouting, “Let’s go Diego.”
It was the sort of honor usually given heads of state, but few heads of state have ever aroused such loyalty or passion.
On the street, the line to see Maradona’s casket was more than 20 blocks long, and disturbances broke out at least twice as fans eager to view the casket clashed with security forces in front of presidential palace, interrupting the flow of visitors.
The casket was covered in an Argentine flag and the No. 10 shirt he famously wore the national team. Dozens of other shirts of different soccer teams tossed in by weeping visitors were scattered on and around the casket.
Maradona died on Wednesday of a heart attack in a house outside Buenos Aires where he had been recovering from a a brain operation on Nov. 3.
Open visitation, started at 6:15 a.m. after a few hours of privacy for family and close friends. The first to bid farewell were his daughters and close family members. His ex-wife Claudia Villafañe came with Maradona’s daughters Dalma and Gianinna. Later came Verónica Ojeda, also his ex-wife, with their son Dieguito Fernando.
Jana, who Maradona recognized as his daughter only a few years ago, also attended the funeral.
Then came former teammates of the 1986 World Cup-winning squad including Oscar Ruggeri. Other Argentine footballers, such as Boca Juniors’ Carlos Tévez, showed up, too.
Early in the morning some fans grew impatient as police tried to maintain order, throwing bottles and pieces of metal fencing at police outside the presidential offices in the heart of Buenos Aires. Officers at one point used tear gas to try to control them.
Clashes again broke out in the early afternoon as police fired rubber bullets at fans trying to force their way ahead.
Argentina President Alberto Fernández had appeared at midday and placed on the casket a shirt of Argentinos Juniors, Maradona’s first club as a professional.
In tears, Fernández also laid two handkerchiefs of the human rights organization Madres de Plaza de Mayo, who wore them for years to protest the disappearance of their children under the Argentina’s military dictatorship between 1976 and 1983.
Maradona, an outspoken leftist who had an image of Argentine Revolutionary Che Guevara tattooed on one bicep, was a friend of the Madres and of other human rights organizations.
The lines started forming outside the Casa Rosada only hours after Maradona’s death was confirmed and grew to several blocks. Among those present were the renowned barrabravas fans of Boca Juniors, one of his former clubs.