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Mandela memorial could draw record crowd

Presidents, prime Ministers, former leaders and dignitaries from more than 60 countries are planning to attend the memorial service for Nelson Mandela.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela smiles in Johannesburg, South Africa on Sept. 22, 2005.
Former South African President Nelson Mandela smiles in Johannesburg, South Africa on Sept. 22, 2005.

The size and prestige of the crowd gathering gathering on Tuesday to remember former South African President Nelson Mandela could rival the draw of past state funerals for some of the world's best-known leaders.

According to the South African government, an impressive list of presidents, prime ministers, former leaders and dignitaries from more than 60 countries plan to attend the Tuesday memorial service for Mandela, the country's famed anti-apartheid leader who died last week at 95.  

Among those making the trek across the globe include President Obama and three former U.S. presidents. The president and First Lady Michelle Obama left for South Africa Monday morning, traveling with former President George W. Bush and former First Lady Laura Bush aboard Air Force One.  Former Secretary of State and First Lady Hillary Clinton is flying with them as well.

Former President Bill Clinton and daughter Chelsea Clinton are flying to South Africa from Brazil, where they're attending a conference for the Clinton Global Initiative. Former President Carter and his wife Rosalynn will meet up with the U.S. delegation in South Africa as well.

Several former British prime ministers will attend the memorial at Soweto Soccer City stadium on Tuesday, including Prince Charles and current Prime Minister David Cameron. 

Leaders from Afghanistan, Pakistan, China, Cuba, Japan, Mexico and India will also attend the memorial, while U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon paid his respects in Johannesburg Monday.

Given the scope of the guest list, security is a top priority.  Police say they've run drills to prepare for the crowds and dignitaries. The head of the South African police force says 90 percent of officers set to work the memorial service were also on duty during the World Cup in 2010. 

For the U.S. Secret Service, the short notice of a foreign trip has presented new challenges, though. Politico reported that a typical trip would be the result of months of planning, but the South African trip and preparations had to be squeezed into mere days. 

While the number of foreign leaders attending the ceremony seems daunting, the size is on par with past funerals of high-profile leaders. Dignitaries from 55 countries attended King Hussein of Jordan's funeral in 1999. Leaders from 80 nations attended Israel Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin's funeral in 1995. And in 1965, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill's funeral service was attended by leaders from more than 110 countries.