National & World News

Nelson Mandela memorial now underway: Snipers, troops stand guard

Nelson Mandela celebrates 90th birthday.

By, Michael Pearson (CNN)

It’s a moment for the ages.

Tens of thousands of South Africans, dozens of presidents and prime ministers, celebrities and street sweepers are all heading to the same place: a stadium in Johannesburg, where they’ll honor Nelson Mandela at a memorial service on Tuesday.

With 91 heads of state attending, security will be tight.

Authorities are already stepping up surveillance as presidents of six nations prepare to pay tribute to the late anti-apartheid leader in a four-hour service that will likely bring much of South Africa to a stop.

Working off plans developed for years in secret, the South African government is using an elite military task force, sniper teams and canine teams to help secure the stadium, CNN’s Arwa Damon reported Monday. In addition, helicopters and military jets frequently fly overhead.

“Should anybody, anything dare to disturb or disrupt this period of mourning and finally taking and accompanying the former president to his last resting place, then that person will be dealt with,” Brig. Gen. Xolani Mabanga said Monday.

South African officials won’t give details about their security plans — how many police officers, how many troops, precautions to keep the stadium weapons- and explosives-free.

“But we can assure that all necessary steps have been taken, and that is why the leadership of the world and former leaders of the world have confidence to come to our country at this time to share with us this moment,” said Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane.

The event promises to rival other significant state funerals in recent decades, such as that of former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1965 and the 2008 funeral of Pope John Paul II, which attracted some 2 million people to Rome — among them four kings, five queens, at least 70 presidents and prime ministers and the leaders of 14 other faiths.

At that event, metal detectors and some 15,000 members of security forces stood watch over the event.

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