Clutching letters and photographs, flags and flowers, thousands of grieving Argentines wept, shouted and even applauded as they said their last goodbyes Thursday to former president
Nestor Kirchner, dpa reported.
As they converged on Argentina's government palace where his body lay in state, mourners waited patiently in a two-kilometre-long line to pay their last respects.
His widow, President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, presided over the ceremony at the government palace. It was her first public appearance since Kirchner, who was president from 2003-07, died suddenly Wednesday of a massive heart attack in the Patagonian town of El Calafate. He was 60.
Fernandez de Kirchner sat for several hours with her children, Maximo and Florencia, by her husband's casket.
When one man shouted, "Long live Cristina, long live Nestor," Fernandez de Kirchner's daughter, who arrived from the United States only hours earlier, reached out to hug her mother.
"Thank you Nestor for having given back to us the joys and the dreams of a free and sovereign country," said one sign written on a piece of paper and stuck on the palace fence.
Argentine football legend Diego Maradona was among those who honoured Kirchner and comforted his widow, as were presidents Rafael Correa of Ecuador, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Sebastian Pinera of Chile and Jose Mujica of Uruguay.
"It is a pity and a loss for Argentina and for all of us. He has been an extraordinary president, a great patriot and an immense Latin American," Correa said on his way to the funeral.
"I had difficult times in Bolivia and comrade Nestor Kirchner was with me, and I hope he will stay with me," said Morales.
Presidents Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia, Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil were expected in Buenos Aires later Thursday.
The palace was to stay open overnight with the funeral ending at 1300 GMT Friday. Kirchner is to be buried later Friday in his native city, the Patagonian Rio Gallegos, more than 2,600 kilometres south of Buenos Aires, a government spokesman said.