Global leaders hail Mandela as towering force for justice

Leaders around the world joined in praising Nelson Mandela Thursday, calling him a force for justice and towering figure who inspired people around the globe.

Mandela, the former South African president and anti-apartheid icon, died earlier Thursday at 95.

“A great light has gone out in the world, said British Prime Minister David Cameron. “Nelson Mandela was a towering figure in our time; a legend in life and now in death - a true global hero. Across the country he loved they will be mourning a man who was the embodiment of grace.”

F.W. deKlerk, South Africa’s last white president, who shared the 1993 Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela, issued a statement saying, “South Africa has lost one of its founding fathers and one of its greatest sons… During his presidency, Mr Mandela did indeed use his great responsibility to assure South Africans from all our communities that he had all their interests at heart. He made a unique contribution not only to the establishment of our constitutional democracy but also to the cause of national reconciliation and nation-building.

“Even in his well-deserved retirement he continued to be a force for reconciliation and social justice - not only in South Africa, but throughout the world,” deKlerk said.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed Mandela as “a giant for justice and a down to earth human inspiration. Many around the world were greatly influenced by his selfless struggle for human dignity equality and freedom, he touched our lives in deeply personal ways. At the same time no one did more in our time to advance the values and aspirations of the United Nations."

Prince William and his wife, Kate, were attending the London film premiere of "Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom" when the news broke.

"We were just reminded of what an extraordinary and inspiring man Nelson Mandela was and my thoughts and prayers are with him and his family right now," William said as he left the film.

Former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair praised Mandela as a "unique political figure at a unique moment" in history.

"Through his leadership, he guided the world into a new era of politics in which black and white, developing and developed, north and south, despite all the huge differences in wealth and opportunity, stood for the first time together on equal terms," Blair said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report