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Mourners pay tribute to Nelson Mandela

Heads of state and admirers from around the world have been paying tribute to South Africa's anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, who passed away on Thursday, aged 95. His funeral is to be held on December 15.

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Jacob Zuma, South African President

Hundreds of people gathered outside Nelson Mandela's home in the Johannesburg neighborhood of Houghton on Friday after holding an all night candlelight vigil for the leader. Many expressed their grief by singing national songs, waving South African flags, lighting candles, laying flowers and dancing. Mourners also gathered at his former home in Soweto.

Impromptu memorials at South African embassies and at statues of Mandela around the world have also received tokens of international appreciation since the news of his death.

The anti-apartheid leader passed away peacefully at his home Thursday evening, aged 95, after struggling with a recurring lung infection.

South Africa mourns Madiba

South African President Jacob Zuma delivered the announcement of Mandela's death in a nationally televised address.

"This is our moment of deepest sorrow, our nation has lost its greatest son," said Zuma, who added that Mandela would be accorded a full state funeral and flags would be flown at half mast. More details of the funeral are due to be released later Friday.

Desmond Tutu, South Africa's archbishop emeritus, said his fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner, who is known to many by his clan name, Madiba, helped unite a deeply divided country.

"Over the past 24 years Madiba taught us how to come together and to believe in ourselves and each other. He was a unifier from the moment he walked out of prison," said Tutu.

South Africa's ruling African National Congress (ANC) said of Mandela's passing, the world had lost "a colossus and epitome of humility, equality, justice and peace."

Politicians herald Mandela

Meanwhile heads of state from around the world also expressed their condolences, heralding Mandela's legacy.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Mandela made "a new, better South Africa." His "shining example and his political legacy of non-violence and the condemnation of all forms of racism will continue to inspire people around the world for many years to come," she said.

US President Barack Obama said Mandela "took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice."

"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," he said.

Obama ordered US flags at the White House and other public buildings to be flown at half-mast until Monday, in honor of Mandela, a rare gesture for a foreign figure.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said that with Mandela's death, "a great light had gone out."

"Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our time; a legend in life and now in death – a true global hero," Cameron said in a statement.

French President Francois Hollande, said Mandela "showed that human will could not only break the chains of servitude but free the energy to succeed in building a common destiny."

China's President Xi Jinping said Mandela made a “historic contribution to the birth and development of a new South Africa."

Russia's President Vladimir Putin recognized Mandela as "one of the greatest politicians in modern times," and a man who never betrayed his convictions.

International leaders pay tribute

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said Mandela was a "giant for justice" whose "selfless struggle for human dignity, equality and freedom" inspired people all around the world.

"Nelson Mandela showed what is possible for our world, and within each of us, if we believe a dream and work together for justice and humanity," Ban said.

European Union President Herman Van Rompuy called Mandela "one of the greatest political figures of our times."

Former US President Bill Clinton, who was in office when Mandela became South African president in 1994, called him one of the world's "most important leaders and one of its finest human beings."

Anti-apartheid hero

Mandela was once labeled a terrorist by the United States and Britain for his support of violent resistance to South Africa's apartheid government. He spent 27 years in prison, much of it on Robben Island, after being convicted of capital offences at the infamous Rivonia Trial.

He became South Africa's first black president four years after his release in 1990. He retired in 1999.

Mandela shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Price with former President Frederik Willem de Klerk; the foundation gave the duo the prize "for their work for the peaceful termination of the apartheid regime, and for laying the foundations for a new democratic South Africa."

After leaving office Mandela became a leading figure in South Africa's fight against AIDS. He lost his only surviving son to the disease in 2005. His made his last major appearance on the world stage at the 2010 World Cup final.

In June, Mandela was hospitalized with a recurring lung infection. At the time, officials had described his condition as serious but stable.

hc/ccp (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

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