World leaders pay tribute to Mandela

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FILE - In this July 7, 1991, file photo, newly-elected African National Congress President Nelson Mandela and his wife, Winnie, greet the crowd after arriving at a rally and a week-long national ANC conference held inside South Africa for the first time in 30 years. South Africa's President Jacob Zuma said, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2013, that Mandela has died. He was 95. (AP Photo/John Parkin, File)

New York -

US President Barack Obama lauded Nelson Mandela on Thursday as “one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth.”

Obama pointed to the transformation that Mandela oversaw in South Africa, noting, “He no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages.”

The first black US president also said South Africa's first black leader had had a tremendous influence on his own political career, noting his first political action as a youth had been an anti-apartheid protest.

“I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set, and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon sent his deepest condolences to Mandela's family and the people of South Africa on Thursday calling Mandela “a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration.”

“Many around the world were greatly influenced by his selfless struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom,” Ban said.

“He touched our lives in deeply personal ways.”

Ban said that Mandela advanced the values of the United Nations more than anyone else. “Let us continue each day to be inspired by Nelson Mandela's life-long example of working for a better and more just world,” Ban said.

British Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday said “a great light had gone out”, revealing that flags would be flown at half-mast at his Downing Street Office.

“A great light has gone out in the world,” Cameron wrote on his official Twitter account.

“Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time. I've asked for the flag at No.10 to be flown at half mast.”

A Downing Street spokesman said a fuller statement was expected later.

British shadow finance minister Ed Balls also took to Twitter, writing: “Seeing Nelson Mandela walking free is one of the great moments of my life - proving leadership and hope can triumph. Thank-you. RIP”

Irish prime minister Enda Kenny paid tribute to the “gift” of Mandela, and offered the country's deepest sympathies to the people of South Africa.

“The name Mandela stirred our conscience and our hearts. It became synonymous with the pursuit of dignity and freedom across the globe,” he said in a statement.

“As we mark his passing, we give thanks for the gift of Nelson Mandela. We ask that his spirit continues to inspire, guide and enlighten us as we strive to bring freedom and dignity to the family of man, our brothers and sisters, across the world,” he added.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Friday hailed Mandela as "a truly great man".

"Nelson Mandela was one of the great figures of Africa, arguably one of the great figures of the last century," Abbott told Fairfax radio, referring to him as the father of modern South Africa.

"A truly great man."

In an official statement, the prime minister said Mandela "will forever be remembered as more than a political leader, he was a moral leader".

"He spent much of his life standing against the injustice of apartheid.

"When that fight was won, he inspired us again by his capacity to forgive and reconcile his country.

"While the world may never see another Nelson Mandela, he has inspired countless men and women throughout the world to live more courageous and honest lives."

Former Australian prime minister Malcolm Fraser, among the first international figures to visit Mandela in prison as chairman of the Commonwealth Group of Eminent Persons in 1986, said his death was a loss to the world.

"We need to remember his achievements and his essential character, which made those achievements possible," he wrote in pre-prepared piece for the Sydney Morning Herald.

"We can learn from his example. He leaves a legacy that all subsequent leaders should seek to emulate." - Sapa-dpa, AFP

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