World leaders are paying tribute to Nelson Mandela following his death. US President Barack Obama said the anti-apartheid leader "transformed South Africa" while the UN Secretary-General called him a "giant for justice."
Obama said on Thursday Mandela "took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice."
"He achieved more than could be expected of any man," Obama said at the White House. "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 no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages," Obama added.
Mandela, who died at his house in Johannesburg on Thursday after struggling for much of the year with a recurring lung infection, inspired the US president to enter politics, said Obama. The two share the distinction of being the first black president of their respective countries.
"I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson Mandela's life," said Obama. "And like so many around the globe, I cannot fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set."
'Champion for human dignity'
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."
"History will remember Nelson Mandela as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation."
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. "Let us continue each day to be inspired by Nelson Mandela's lifelong example to keep working for a better and more just world."
'Great light' gone out
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. "Across the country he loved they will be mourning a man who was the embodiment of grace."
Mandela made "a new, better South Africa," said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 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 added.
French President Francois Hollande said Mandela, who spent 27 years in prison, most of them at South Africa's infamous Robben Island jail, until his release in 1990, "made history – that of South Africa and the whole world."
"He showed that human will could not only break the chains of servitude but free the energy to succeed in building a common destiny."
Taught us to 'come together'
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. "We are relieved that his suffering is over, but our relief is drowned by our grief. May he rest in peace and rise in glory."
South Africa's ruling African National Congress said in Mandela's passing, the world lost "a colossus and epitome of humility, equality, justice and peace."
"His life gives us the courage to push forward for development and progress towards ending hunger and poverty," it said in a statement.
European Union President Herman Van Rompuy called Mandela "one of the greatest political figures of our times," and European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso wrote on Twitter that "Mandela changed [the] course of history for his people, country, continent and the world."
dr/ch (AFP, AP, Reuters, dpa)