Will Smith kicks off Nelson Mandela birthday gig

Fri Jun 27, 2008 2:07pm EDT
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - Hollywood actor Will Smith kicked off a star-studded concert on Friday to honor Nelson Mandela, whose visit to London has been overshadowed by events in Zimbabwe where widely condemned elections had just ended.

Queen, Annie Lennox, Simple Minds, Amy Winehouse and some of Africa's top singers are among the stars set to perform before Mandela, who turns 90 next month, and nearly 50,000 fans in London's Hyde Park.

"Peter Gabriel once said, 'if the world could have one father the man who we could choose to be our father would be Nelson Mandela'," Smith told a cheering crowd.

"Nelson Mandela has taught us about love and reconciliation, taught us about justice."

The tribute to the elder African statesman coincides with disputed elections in Zimbabwe, and Mandela has been urged to speak out against President Robert Mugabe who pushed ahead with the vote despite international outcry.

Opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai boycotted the poll due to a wave of deadly attacks on his supporters.

During his stay in Britain, Mandela has uttered just four words of criticism of Zimbabwe in a speech at a dinner -- "tragic failure of leadership" -- but they were enough to make headline news.

Mandela, South Africa's first black president, officially retired from politics nine years ago, but he is still a moral authority admired the world over.   Continued...