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World leaders to honor Mandela

JOHANNESBURG – South Africa yesterday started preparations to host US President Barack Obama and other world leaders eager to pay their respects to Nelson Mandela during 10 days of mourning for the anti-apartheid icon.

On Friday, President Jacob Zuma announced the mourning period for Mandela, the founding father of modern South Africa and its first black leader, after he died late Thursday aged 95, surrounded by friends and family.

Obama, America’s first black President, will travel to South Africa next week, the White House said, joining a raft of world leaders for a huge December 10 memorial service.

Mandela’s body will lie in state in Pretoria for three days before he receives a state burial on December 15 in his boyhood home of Qunu.

The logistics are daunting for hosting the great and the good who plan to fly in from around world to honor the universally respected statesman.

The official SAPA news agency quoted a travel industry official saying that “very little accommodation will be available in Johannesburg and Pretoria’’ in coming weeks as the South African government and various consulates block book hotel rooms.

Memorial events began yesterday, with thousands expected at a wreath-laying event in a Johannesburg park.

Obama and his wife Michelle will travel to South Africa together with former First Couple George W. and Laura Bush.

Ex-President Bill Clinton, who was in office when Mandela took power to become South Africa’s
first black President, also said that he would be making the trip with his family.

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the Obamas would “participate in memorial events’’ without giving details.

In a tribute shortly after the revered statesman’s death was made public, Obama mourned Mandela as a “profoundly good’’ man who “took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.’’

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said he would attend the memorial to honor “a truly great world leader, an extraordinary man.’’

Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff will also be among those flying in next week, her office said.

On Friday, ordinary South Africans across the country poured out onto the streets in a riot of color, dance, and song to celebrate the life of their beloved ex-leader, known affectionately as “Madiba.” (AFP)