Latin America & Caribbean

Argentina ex-leader Kirchner to be buried

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Media captionThousands threw flowers as the funeral procession made its way through Buenos Aires

Thousands of Argentines have lined the streets of Buenos Aires in pouring rain to salute the funeral procession of former President Nestor Kirchner, who died on Wednesday.

Many shouted support for his widow, current Argentine President Cristina Fernandez, who led the funeral march.

Mr Kirchner's body has been flown to the southern region of Patagonia for burial in his home town, Rio Gallegos.

The family is planning to hold an intimate funeral in the local cemetery.

'Ole Nestor'

Waving flags and placards, crowds chanted and wept as the funeral cortege moved slowly through the rain-swept avenues of Buenos Aires.

"Ole Ole Ole, Nestor, Nestor," the crowds sang as the hearse covered with flowers passed by.

Many called for Cristina Fernandez to stand for re-election next year, the BBC's Valeria Perasso tweeted from the scene.

Crowds were also waiting to greet his coffin when it arrived in Rio Gallegos

Mr Kirchner died of a heart attack on Wednesday aged 60.

Succeeded by his wife as president in 2007, he had been expected to run in the 2011 election.

Emotional statements

The former president, who ran the country from 2003 to 2007, had been lying in state in the government palace - the Casa Rosada or Pink House - since Thursday morning.

Thousands of Argentines and South American leaders, including Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, paid tribute to Mr Kirchner during the wake.

The former president was secretary general of the South American regional grouping, Unasur.

Local media reported that about 1,000 people passed through the palace every hour, in groups of 150-200.

People were still filing past Mr Kirchner's body during the final moments of the wake.

President Fernandez, dressed in black and wearing dark glasses, stood next to the flag-draped coffin and hugged or held hands with some mourners.

She was accompanied by relatives, political allies and friends and accepted condolences from Spain's Foreign Minister Trinidad Jimenez and the former Spanish Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez.

On Thursday, Ms Fernandez spent 11 hours next to her husband's coffin.

Many of the well-wishers were carrying candles, flags and flowers, sometimes accepted by Ms Fernandez personally.

Hometown funeral

Mr Kirchner had suffered health problems and had a heart operation last month but nevertheless his death shocked many in Argentina, where three days of national mourning were declared.

Image caption People were still lining up to pay tribute to Mr Kirchner 24 hours after the wake had begun

The country's football matches this weekend have been called off. All matches from the first division to lower semi-professional leagues were suspended, the Argentine Football Association said.

The former president is to be buried in the family plot in a cemetery in Rio Gallegos.

Mr Kirchner served as mayor of Rio Gallegos before becoming governor of the wider region - the oil and gas-rich province of Santa Cruz.

He became president as Argentina was emerging from a profound political and economic crisis, he oversaw the country's return to relative stability and prosperity.

Mr Kirchner also supported the prosecution of those responsible for human rights abuses under military rule in the 1970s and 1980s.

He was a polarising figure, very popular among the trade unions and in the industrial belt around Buenos Aires and deeply unpopular among the wealthy.

He and his wife had faced some criticism for appearing to get around the constitutional limit on two consecutive terms.

Just as Mr Kirchner stood aside for his wife in 2007, it was widely thought Mrs Fernandez would step back and allow her husband to run in the October 2011 election.

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