A Hero's Goodbye: Obama Honors Mandela as 'Giant of History'

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World leaders, royalty and fans turned out in the thousands on Tuesday to remember freedom fighter Nelson Mandela, the man whose personal battle against racism helped bring an end to the era of apartheid in South Africa.

Tens of thousands of people turned out to bid their respects to South African civil rights leaderNelson Mandela in a memorial service on Tuesday in the FNB Stadium in Soweto, a township of Johannesburg and a stronghold of support for the anti-apartheid movement. The Nobel Peace Prize winner died on Thursday at the age of 95. Heads of state, government elite and royalty from close to 100 countries, including Barack Obama and his German colleague Joachim Gauck, turned out to remember the man the US president described as a "giant of history."

Despite heavy rain, the mood in the stadium was one of celebration and song. During his speech before the crowd, Obama compared Mandela to other great champions of civil rights in history, including Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln.

He called on the world to act on Mandela's legacy by fighting inequality, poverty and racism. He said that like South Africa, the United States had to overcome "centuries of racial subjugation" and that (first lady) "Michelle and I are beneficiaries of that struggle." He added: "In America and South Africa, and countries around the globe, we cannot allow our progress to cloud the fact that our work is not done."

'His Triumph Was Your Triumph'

Of Mandela, Obama said: "His struggle was your struggle. His triumph was your triumph." He described Mandela as the last great freedom fighter of the 20th century. He added that he had helped reconcile a divided South Africa and inspired millions around the world.

As he approached the podium, the American president even shook hands with Cuban President Raul Castro.

Crowds booed when South African President Jacob Zuma took to the stage to honor Mandela. Although his African National Congress, once led by Mandela, is leading in the run-up to elections next year, Zuma has been criticized for his party's many scandals.

Mandela embodied the struggle against white rule in South Africa and spent 27 years in prison for his acts of protest against apartheid before ultimately becoming the country's president.

Among the European leaders attending the funeral were current and former French presidents François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy, British Prime Minister David Cameron and his predecessors John Major, Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Royal guests included Queen Rania of Jordan, Prince Frederik of Denmark, Princess Victoria of Sweden and Prince Felipe of Spain.

dsl -- with wires

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