Argentines bid goodbye to Kirchner before burial

AP News
Posted: Oct 29, 2010 9:23 PM
Argentines bid goodbye to Kirchner before burial

Former President Nestor Kirchner was buried Friday in the southern city where he was born, ending two days of mourning that saw tens of thousands of Argentines fill the streets to pay their respects to one of the nation's dominant political figures.

Kirchner, who died Wednesday of a heart attack at age 60, was laid to rest in his family's small pantheon in a cemetery in Rio Gallegos, capital of southern Santa Cruz province where he and his wife began their political careers.

The only people allowed at the private ceremony were Fernandez, the couple's children Maximo and Florencia, close government officials, and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, the last of the Latin American leaders who came to Argentina remaining in the country.

Earlier Friday, Argentines filed past a flag-draped coffin to pay their respects to Kirchner, then lined Buenos Aires' rain-slicked streets for a glimpse of his hearse as it passed by.

Tens of thousands of people emerged from apartment buildings, businesses and government offices to applaud the man considered the most influential Argentine politician of the last decade, credited with helping the South American nation recover from a crippling economic crisis in the early 2000s.

Onlookers holding umbrellas and blue-and-white Argentine flags sang, chanted Peronist party slogans and tossed flowers onto the vehicle.

Arriving at Jorge Newberry airport, an honor guard loaded the coffin into an Argentine air force plane that then took off bound for Kirchner's Rio Gallegos, in the southern Patagonia region.

At the wake, people lined up in the rain outside waiting to pay their respects.

"Hang on, Cristina" and "We love you," some visitors cried out.

Kirchner was president from 2003 until 2007, when his wife took office after he stepped aside to make room for election. At the time of his death, he was secretary-general of the United South American Nations, or UNASUR.

After leaving office, Kirchner remained a top powerbroker and adviser to Fernandez, and his unexpected passing shakes up the nation's politics.

"Kirchner was the economic coordinator, the ideologue, and the ministers were executors of his policies. He had the steering wheel," said Juan O'Donnell, an analyst with the private consultancy Econviews. "Without Kirchner, it must be seen was Cristina Fernandez does."

Kirchner previously he was mayor of Rio Gallegos, some 1,600 miles (2,600 kilometers) near the Chilean border in Tierra del Fuego.