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Mandela's body arrives at Qunu, burial to be conducted on Sunday

JOHANNESBURG/QUNU, South Africa--The body of Nelson Mandela arrived at his ancestral home village of Qunu in South Africa's Eastern Cape on Saturday ahead of the anti-apartheid leader's state funeral set for the following day.

The coffin carrying the remains of South Africa's first black president was driven in a hearse from Mthatha airport, 700 km (450 miles) south of Johannesburg, with a ceremonial military escort and cheered by crowds lining parts of the road.

Preparations for Mandela's funeral have been marred by a public spat between the South African government and retired Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the most prominent survivors in the long anti-apartheid struggle.

Tutu, a Nobel laureate who has strongly criticized the current government, said in a statement Saturday that he will not be attending Mandela's funeral, even though he wishes to pay respects to his longtime friend.

He says he was not invited — an apparent snub that the government vehemently denies.

“Much as I would have loved to attend the service to say a final farewell to someone I loved and treasured, it would have been disrespectful to Tata (Mandela) to gatecrash what was billed as a private family funeral,” Tutu said in the statement. “Had I or my office been informed that I would be welcome there is no way on earth that I would have missed it.”

Tutu, 82, said he had cancelled his plans to fly to the Eastern Cape to attend the Sunday funeral after receiving no indication that his name was on the guest list or accreditation list.

However, Mac Maharaj, a spokesman for the South African presidency, said Tutu is on the guest list and that he hopes a solution will be found that allows Tutu to attend.

“Certainly he is invited,” Maharaj said. “He's an important person.”

He said he did not know whether Tutu had been invited to eulogize Mandela but was certain an invitation to attend had been issued. Tutu has preached at the funerals of most major anti-apartheid figures, including Steve Biko, Chris Hani, Walter Sisulu and others.

Tutu's daughter, Rev. Mpho Tutu, said in a statement earlier Saturday that her father had not been accredited as a clergyman at Mandela's funeral, to be held in Mandela's home village of Qunu.

Maharaj said no credentials were needed.

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A South African national flag bearing the face of former South African President Nelson Mandela is displayed near his home as residents gather for his arrival in Qunu, South Africa on Saturday.

(AP)

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