BUENOS AIRES (AP) — Tens of thousands of fans eager to honor Diego Maradona lined up to file past the coffin of Argentina’s most iconic soccer star on Thursday, some confronting police who tried to maintain order at the country’s presidential mansion.
Some threw bottles and pieces of metal fencing at police near the Casa Rosada in the heart of Buenos Aires. Officers at one point used tear gas to try to control them.
Fans blew kisses as they passed Maradona’s wooden casket in the main lobby of the presidential building, some strike their chests with closed fists and shouting, “Let’s go Diego.”
The casket was covered in an Argentine flag and the No. 10 shirt he famously wore on the national team. Dozens of other shirts of different soccer teams were 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 recovered from a brain operation on Nov. 3.
Open visitation started at 6:15 a.m. local time (0915 GMT) 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.
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.
The first fan to visit was Nahuel de Lima, 30, using crutches to move because of a disability.
“He made Argentina be recognized all over the world, who speaks of Maradona also speaks of Argentina,” de Lima told The Associated Press. “Diego is the people…. Today the shirts, the political flags don’t matter. We came to say goodbye to a great that gave us a lot of joy.”
Lidia and Estela Villalba cried near the exit of the lobby. Both had a Boca Juniors shirt and an Argentinian flag on their shoulders.
“We told him we love him, that he was the greatest,” they said at the same time.
A huge mural of Maradona’a face was painted on the tiles that cover the Plaza de Mayo, near the Casa Rosada, which was decorated with a giant black ribbon at the entrance.
A giant screen in front of the Casa Rosada displayed historic photos of Maradona to the passing fans, most but not all of whom wore masks due to the coronvirus pandemic.