Uhuru-Spirit News


December 10, 2013 | UhuruSpirit

President Barack Obama, accompanied by first lady Michelle Obama, waves prior to boarding Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base before traveling to South Africa. They were joined by former President George W. Bush, his wife Laura and former first lady Hillary Clinton. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter are traveling separately to South Africa. Photo: AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana

President Barack Obama touched down in South Africa this morning to attend Nelson Mandela's memorial service after a crowded flight aboard what the US media dubbed "Air Force Awkward".

The president and Michelle Obama shared Air Force One with their predecessors - George W Bush and his wife Laura - as well as a potential successor: Hillary Clinton.

Although the presidential jet is equipped for all eventualities, up to and including a nuclear war, it has only one real bedroom, leading to a shuffling choreography throughout the 16-hour flight.

While Mr and Mrs Obama took the presidential cabin, the Bushes set up camp in the small medical office behind. Apparently the space was a little cramped for Mr Bush, who spent 90 minutes catching up with White House journalists also aboard the flight.

Mrs Clinton, who ran against Mr Obama in the 2008 election and and whose husband defeated Mr Bush's father in 1992, meanwhile was put up in a cabin for the president's senior staff.

She also stopped by the journalists' cabin, according to reporters on the plane.

A spokesman for Mr Obama said that the three first families had congregated in the conference room for a catch up, describing it as "a pretty remarkable flight".

Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea are making their own way from a conference in Rio de Janeiro, while Jimmy Carter and his wife Rosalynn were on a separate plane.

Mr Obama will only be on the ground in South Africa for 13 hours, where he will speak at a memorial service in Johannesburg's 94,000-capacity FNB Stadium.

The gathering of world leaders - including David Cameron, Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel - is thought to be the largest since Winston Churchill's state funeral in 1965.

Mr Obama's speech will be joined on the speakers platform by Raul Castro, the president of Cuba, and a long-time antagonist of the US.

Hassan Rouhani, the Iranian president, is also expected to be in attendance, prompting speculation he and Mr Obama could finally shake hands after a meeting at the UN was aborted in September.

The clasp would be the first between a US president and an Iranian leader since the two countries' diplomatic relations broke down in the wake of the Iranian revolution.

"We're not anticipating any meeting," said Jay Carney, the White House press secretary.

The White House talked down concerns about security at the memorial, saying it was "confident in [South Africa's] ability to make sure this is an appropriate sendoff for one of the truly extraordinary statesmen of the last century".

Although Mr Obama had a statement ready for the announcement of Mr Mandela's death on Thursday, he had not pre-prepared the eulogy he will deliver today, his aides said.

More than 20 members of Congress are also attending the memorial service. Senator Ted Cruz, the Republican firebrand, is the only member of the upper chamber to attend. - Raf Sanchez, The Telegraph

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