A girl carrying a portrait of the late former South African president Nelson Mandela attends a state memorial service at the FNB Stadium in Johannesburg, south Africa, Dec. 10, 2013. Memorial service for former South African President Nelson Mandela started in Johannesburg on Tuesday as tens of thousands of mourners and more than 90 world leaders gather in rain to remember Mandela at memorial. (Xinhua/Meng Chenguang)
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by Nie Yun
JOHANNESBURG, Dec. 10 (Xinhua) -- The South African government on Tuesday held the national memorial service here, honoring the late anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela.
Braving the pouring rain and chilly wind, some 100,000 mouring people gathered at the First National Bank (FNB) Stadium in Johannesburg.
The FNB Stadium is the largest modern stadium in South Africa, having an honor of where Mandela delivered his first speech in Johannesburg following being released from prison in 1990.
With pistols and metal detectors, several hundred police were patrolling, guarding the shrine.
The memory was joined by heads of world organizations and about 90 countries, including UN General Secretary Ban Ki- moon, U. S.President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raul Castro.
Mandela's family attended the service, such as his wife Graca Machel and his daughters and grandsons.
To show the mourning air, the main stage inside the stadium is decorated with the white roof and black poles, and its foot is lined with bouquets with white flowers.
The South African military band was playing in a low and sad tune at the small stage alongside as the honored guests approached the main stage.
After stepping on the main stage, South African President Jacob Zuma shook hands with the UN chief and many heads of state and government.
The whole stadium was overwhelmed by the laud cheer from the crowds.
As the ruling African National Congress (ANC) deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa announced the start of the ceremony, all mourners stood, choiring the South African national anthem.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said, "Mandela sacrificed so much, and was willing to give up everything for freedom and equality. South Africa has lost a father, the world has lost a beloved friend and mentor."
"On behalf of the UN, I offer my deepest condolences to the Mandela's family and the people of South Africa," he added.
Describing Mandela as an excellent African figure, the African Union Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said, "Mandela is a gallant fighter, an ANC leader and the leader of the South African people, Africa is mourning together with the rest of the world."
U.S. President Barack Obama paid his respects to the elder statesman, saying "Mandela was the last great liberator of the 20th century. We love him, we will miss him deeply."
As a good friend of Mandela, Cuban leader Raul Castro said, " Mandela set an example that through dialogue discrepancies could be solved."
Believing Mandela was a great man to bring the country out of the catastrophe, President Zuma said, "I do not know anyone who has values as strong as Mandela. He has inspired us every day."
"We appreciate foreign dignitaries for travelling to South Africa to share in the grief of the country's people after Mandela passed," said Zuma.
Undeterred by the persistent rain, many mourners sang the struggle songs in memory of Mandela.
Some were raising Mandela portraits and national flags, while others were dressed in the Mandela shirts and yellow-green colored shawls.
Despite the adverse weather, many residents in Johannesburg rushed to the stadium to remember Mandela.
"Though the roads around the stadium have been closed by police, I walked to the stadium following parking at a place which is about three km away from the stadium," a Johannesburg driver told Xinhua.
The memorial service is part of the extended state funeral that will culminate in Mandela's burial in his home village of Qunu in the southern province of the Eastern Cape on Sunday.
Mandela was admitted to hospital with the serious recurring lung infection several times in recent years. He suffered from tuberculosis when he was incarcerated for 27 years before the apartheid ended in 1994.
After being discharged from hospital in Pretoria on Sept. 1, he started his final fight against the disease at his home in Johannesburg.
He was the first democratically-elected president in South Africa, having an honor of the state father in the country.