World salutes Mandela on 95th birthday

Johannesburg, July 18 (IANS) World leaders Thursday sent their "warmest wishes and prayers" to Nelson Mandela, as the former South African president and anti-apartheid icon turned 95.

While US President Barack Obama said people will forever draw strength and inspiration from Mandela's "extraordinary example of moral courage, kindness and humility", his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin said Mandela's name "is inseparably linked with an entire epoch of Africa's modern history", Xinhua reported.

Mandela, who served as president from 1994 to 1999, has been in hospital since June 8 for a recurring lung infection. South African President Jacob Zuma Thursday said Mandela's doctors have confirmed that his health is steadily improving.

"Our family was deeply moved by our visit to Madiba's former cell on Robben Island during our recent trip to South Africa, and we will forever draw strength and inspiration from his extraordinary example of moral courage, kindness and humility," Obama said in a statement.

Obama had hoped to see Mandela when he visited the country in June but failed due to Mandela's hospitalisation.

The day was declared by the UN as Nelson Mandela International Day.

"On Nelson Mandela International Day, people everywhere have the opportunity to honour Madiba through individual and collective acts of service," Obama said in his statement.

"Through our own lives, by heeding his example, we can honour the man who showed his own people -- and the world -- the path to justice, equality and freedom," he added.

Putin said Mandela was an integral part of Africa's modern history.

"Your name is inseparably linked with an entire epoch of Africa's modern history that heralded the building of the new and democratic Republic of South Africa," Putin said in his message on Mandela's 95th birthday.

Mandela has a "well-deserved authority" both in South Africa and abroad thanks to his decades-long political and public activities, Putin said in the message published on the Kremlin website.

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius paid tribute to Mandela for his dedication to "bring the freedom and dignity back to the people of the South Africa".

Lasro Simbolon, director of African affairs at Indonesia's foreign affairs ministry,, said Indonesia has very strong links with South African democracy and the anti-apartheid campaigner.

"Indonesia's staunch support to the anti-apartheid movement was highly respected by Nelson Mandela that made him visit Indonesia in 1990, soon after he was released from his 27-year imprisonment. His first visit to Indonesia was in 1990. Since then he was quite frequent in visiting Indonesia," he said.

During his frequent visits to Indonesia, Mandela fell in love with the country's traditional cloth of Batik. Since then, he was often seen wearing batik shirt in many international events, the official said.

Praising Mandela's tenacity in fighting his illness that has forced him to stay in hospital, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China has always been concerned about Mandela's health.

"We sincerely hope he can conquer disease and recover at an early date," the spokeswoman said.

Mandela is the founder of the new South Africa and a world-renowned statesman, Hua said.

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