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Nelson Mandela's Death: World Leaders, Media React

Nelson Mandela 2009 - P 2013
Chris Jackson/Getty Images
Nelson Mandela

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon honored Mandela as a “giant for justice,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel calls him a “shining example” while Indian media compares the late South African leader to Mahatma Gandhi.

The death of South African Apartheid fighter-turned-President Nelson Mandela dominated headlines on newspapers and newscasts around the globe Friday as the world mourned one of the history's greatest freedom fighters and statesmen.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon called Mandela a “giant for justice,” the German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the late South African leader was “a shining example” to the world while UK Prime Minister David Cameron noted "a great light has gone out.”

In an ominous bit of timing, Prince William and Kate Middleton, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, were attending the U.K. premiere Thursday night of Justin Chadwick's Mandela biopic Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom with  Mandela's daughters Zindzi and Zenani when they learned of his death only hours before.

The film, which has been getting strong Oscar award buzz, stars British actors Idris Elba (The Wire, Luther) as Mandela and Naomie Harris (Skyfall) as his wife Winnie.

Prince William said as he left the cinema: “I just wanted to say it's extremely sad and tragic news. We were just reminded what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was. My thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. It's very sad.”

In a statement shortly after Mandela's death, Elba said: "What an honor it was to step into the shoes of Nelson Mandela and portray a man who defied odds, broke down barriers, and championed human rights before the eyes of the world. My thoughts and prayers are with his family."

Prince William's father, Prince Charles told British media on Friday morning that "the world has lost an inspired leader and a great man. With his passing, there will be an immense void not only in his family's lives, but also in those of all South Africans and the many others whose lives have been changed through his fight for peace, justice and freedom." British media reports suggest Prince Charles will likely attend Mandela's funeral in South Africa while the British Queen is expected to stay home and pay her respects at a service in Britain.

In a statement French President Francois Hollande called Mandela “a tireless fighter." “He stunned us with his courage, persistence and perseverance. Despite personal trials and endless detention and humiliation that lasted 27 years, he could not only reverse a despicable regime, but reconcile South Africans and uphold democracy.”

Hollande will give a tribute to Mandela at the opening of the African summit at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Friday where 40 African leaders meet to discuss the future of African security.

In France and across the globe, world leaders ordered flags to be flown at half mast in honor of Mandela. But together with the sadness, the tributes to the late South African leader across all media were infused with a celebration of Mandela's life and achievements.

“Our nation has lost its greatest son. Our people have lost a father,” said South African President Jacob Zuma in a somber live address on South African television Thursday announcing Mandela's death, before calling on his nation to commit itself to the goals and ideals of “Madiba,” Mandela's traditional Xhosa clan name.  “This is indeed the moment of our deepest sorrow. Yet it must also be the moment of our greatest determination. A determination to live as Madiba has lived, to strive as Madiba has strived and to not rest until we have realized his vision of a truly united South Africa, a peaceful and prosperous Africa, and a better world.”

FW de Klerk, who as South Africa's last white president ordered Mandela's release after 27 years behind bars, 18 of them on the notorious Robben Island, and who shared with him the 1993 Noble Peace Prize, told the BBC  Mandela was “a unifier" who had "a remarkable lack of bitterness.”

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh compared the philosophy and struggles of the South African icon to that of Mahatma Gandhi.

“(Mandela) was a true Gandhian in spirit and idea,” he said. “In a world marked by division, he was an example of working for harmony.”

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Mandela was a "great leader," who put “national reconciliation at the center of his nation-building." China's President Xi Jinping hailed him as a "world-renowned statesman", who "led the South African people through arduous struggles to victory over apartheid victory, making an historic contribution to the establishment and development of the new South Africa."

Chinese social media network  Sina Weibo, like Twitter and similar services around the world, lit up with tributes, quotes and discussion about Mandela and the impact of his life. Chinese webizens made calls for the Chinese people to be inspired by his spirit.

"When we commemorate Mandela, it is not only remembering a great politician of indomitable spirit and a freedom fighter, but we have also seen that tolerance, reconciliation and forgiveness can really walk on the ground," wrote Ade1968. Another commentator, whose Weibo name is SCDN-CODE, said: "This weekend, let's commemorate Mandela, learn about his broad-mindedness and spirit of fighting for freedom relentlessly. Also, lets work together on opening the source of freedom of China."

Traditional media also dedicated airtime and column inches to Mandela's extraordinary life and work. The announcement of his death led news bulletins and dominated headlines across Asia, Europe and South America as well as everywhere in Africa.

BBC anchor Hugh Edwards was visibly moved as he presented the news of Mandela's death on the 10 oClock news and  journalists around the world seemed shaken by the announcement. “The noble revolutionary” is what German news magazine Die Zeit called Mandela in its headline. “A hero of peace,” said France's Le Figaro. While The Economist, in a more critical assessment of both Mandela's flaws and mistakes, as well as his unquestionable  achievements, titled its obituary “the long walk is over” noting that “for many people, in many lands,” Nelson Mandela is considered “the greatest of the statesmen of the 20th Century.”

One of the few countries whose main news media did not lead with tributes to the South African leader was Russia. The country’s largest TV station, state-run Channel One, ran its report on “a man who changed the world” after several other items, including the alleged Russian diplomat fraud in the U.S. Smaller state-run network NTV and opposition channel Dozhd led their Friday morning newscasts with reports on Mandela’s death.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was among the first prominent Russians to express his condolences early Friday, noting that "a great man has passed away, one that I personally respected, and was respected by many others for his commitment to freedom and a revolution that was necessary for achieving that freedom." Mandela deserved the thanks of people all over the world, Gorbachev said. "His courageous sacrifice will live on through the ages."

At the Kremlin, the office of Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a more terse statement, saying the Russian leader had sent a letter of condolences to South African president Jacob Zuma and praising Mandela "for his role in instigating developments in South Africa-Russian relations, which have evolved into strategic ones."