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Nelson Mandela funeral set for Dec. 15; 10 days of mourning begin

Nelson Mandela funeral set for Dec. 15; 10 days of mourning begin
A young girl places flowers outside the home of former South African President Nelson Mandela in Johannesburg. (Themba Hadebe / Associated Press)

JOHANNESBURG, South Africa -- After 10 days of national mourning, anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela will be buried on Dec. 15 in a private service in his home village of Qunu, President Jacob Zuma told journalists Friday.

The former president, who died Thursday, will be accorded a state funeral in Pretoria after lying in state in the Union Buildings, the seat of government, for three days beginning next Wednesday, Zuma said.

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Huge crowds are expected as South Africans and visitors try to see Mandela for a last time and pay respects to the man who peacefully negotiated an end to the brutal system of apartheid.

Zuma declared Sunday a day of prayer and reflection. Somber prayer meetings are to be held in churches across South Africa.

The major memorial service is scheduled for Tuesday at Soweto's 90,000-seat Soccer City stadium, where Mandela made his last public appearance, at the final of the World Cup in 2010.

Smaller memorials are expected in major cities across South Africa. Many of the key events will be televised on big screens in squares and other public places.

Logistics and security arrangements for the events are one of the biggest challenges the South African administration has ever faced.

Officials must deal with the needs of millions of people to grieve for their beloved freedom fighter as well as the arrivals of hundreds of heads of state and other dignitaries from all over the world. There are expectations that almost all of Africa's leaders and every living current and former U.S. president will come.

The scale of the funeral has been compared to those of Britain's wartime leader, Winston Churchill, and Pope John Paul II.

"We will spend the week mourning his passing. We will also celebrate a life well lived, that we must emulate," Zuma said Friday.

"The outpouring of love is unprecedented. It demonstrates the kind of leader Madiba was," he said, using Mandela's clan name.

Zuma said the country would pull together to ensure the most fitting funeral for Mandela.

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Twitter: @latimesdixon

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