World leaders honor Mandela as champion of freedom and reconciliation

Thu Dec 5, 2013 6:39pm EST
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(Reuters) - Nelson Mandela was hailed on Thursday as a "hero of our time" as tributes poured in from world leaders on the death of the man who led the triumphant fight against apartheid in South Africa and became that country's first black president.

"A great light has gone out in the world," British Prime Minister David Cameron wrote on Twitter. "Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time."

Barack Obama, the first black U.S. president, said Mandela "achieved more than could be expected of any man.

"Today he's gone home, and we've lost one of the most influential, courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth," Obama said at the White House.

South African President Jacob Zuma, announcing that Mandela died at his Johannesburg home on Thursday after a prolonged lung infection, said, "Our people have lost a father.

"Although we knew this day was going to come, nothing can diminish our sense of a profound and enduring loss. His tireless struggle for freedom earned him the respect of the world. His humility, passion and humanity earned him their love," Zuma added.

Mandela emerged from 27 years in apartheid prisons to help guide South Africa to democracy, becoming one of the world's most respected and loved political figures.

He was elected president in landmark all-race elections in 1994 and retired in 1999.

F.W. de Klerk, South Africa's last white president, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993, praised him "as a great unifier and a very, very special man in this regard beyond everything else he did.   Continued...

South Africa's President Nelson Mandela is seen in this August 1996 file photo. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings/Files