Clashes erupt as Maradona fans try to get close to hero before funeral

Clashes erupt as Maradona fans try to get close to hero before funeral

BUENOS AIRES • Argentinian football legend Diego Maradona was laid to rest on Thursday after a private funeral on the outskirts of the country’s capital.

As darkness fell, he was interred after a simple religious ceremony attended by family and close friends in the leafy surrounds of the Jardin Bella Vista cemetery amid a global outpouring of grief.

Maradona was buried next to the graves of his parents, Diego Sr and Tota. His former wife Claudia Villafane, 58, and three of his daughters – Dalma, 33, Giannina, 31, and Jana, 23 – as well as former Manchester United forward Carlos Tevez were among those at the funeral.

Former girlfriend Veronica Ojeda, 42, and their seven-year-old son Dieguito Fernando were also present. Security was tight, and local media reported that it took place under a gazebo to prevent media drones from intruding.

The death of Maradona at the age of 60 on Wednesday, following a heart attack, has sparked both mourning and celebrations of a true sporting star, who was a genius on the football field but lived a life marred by struggles with drug and alcohol addiction and obesity.

The burial followed a day of high emotion that saw clashes between police and fans near the presidential palace in central Buenos Aires where the 1986 World Cup winner lay in state in a closed casket for people to say their final farewells.

Tens of thousands of people circled the pink-hued Casa Rosada – the queue was estimated at more than 1.6km long – and there was a febrile atmosphere more akin to a rowdy football game than a formal wake, with fans clambering up the palace gates to get as close as possible to their hero.

The authorities struggled to maintain safe distancing among the masses, but social worker and fan Rosa Monje said it was understandable despite the prevalence of the coronavirus in the country.

“It is impossible to ask them to distance. We behave respectfully and offer them sanitisers and face masks,” she said, adding her tribute to Maradona tearfully: “I told him, to victory always, Diego.”

The snaking line led to some frustrated fans taking over a courtyard inside the palace where they chanted slogans, forcing officials to move his coffin to another room as a security precaution.

A government decision to grant a three-hour extension to the wake to allow time for the crowd to pay their respects proved to be insufficient, and as the authorities started to close down access to the central square, scuffles broke out.

EMOTIONAL FAREWELL

It is impossible to ask them to distance. We behave respectfully and offer them sanitisers and face masks… I told him, to victory always, Diego.

SOCIAL WORKER AND FAN ROSA MONJE,
on struggling to ensure safe distancing among fans, and her tribute to Maradona.

Riot police used rubber bullets and water cannon to disperse the unruly masses and engaged in clashes with stone-throwing fans on streets around the palace, resulting in the arrest of several people.

However, the heavy-handed approach drew the ire of Interior Minister Wado de Pedro, who defended the people’s right to see Maradona’s body, calling the clampdown a “repression”.

The tensions eventually eased after the body was transferred by hearse, surrounded by a huge entourage. The roads were lined with people chanting, “Diego is not dead, Diego lives in the people”, as it passed on the hour-long journey to Bella Vista.

Yesterday marked the final day of a three-day national mourning for the playmaker who was never far from controversy, but as the catalyst for their second World Cup triumph, will forever be revered with cult-like status in Argentina.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS, XINHUA

SEE SPORT