World leaders mourned the loss of South Africa's first black president Nelson Mandela, who passed away on Thursday evening at the page of 95.
US President Barack Obama hailed Mandela as a leader who left his country with a legacy of freedom and peace.
"He achieved more than could be expected of any man," Obama said at the White House shortly after the announcement of Mandela's death.
"He no longer belongs to us," Obama said. "He belongs to the ages."
"Today he's gone home, and we've lost one of the most influential,
courageous and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share
time with on this earth," Obama said.
Obama, the first black US president, has long referred to Mandela as a personal inspiration.
"I am one of the countless millions who drew inspiration from Nelson
Mandela's life," Obama said. "Like so many around the globe, I cannot
fully imagine my own life without the example that Nelson Mandela set,
and so long as I live I will do what I can to learn from him."
Obama studied Mandela's work, inspired his path as a young community
organizer, and mourned his illness as president throughout the summer as
the health of the South African hero deteriorated.
He noted his own first involvement in anything political was a protest against apartheid, the system of white rule in South Africa.
"To the people of South Africa, we draw strength from the example of renewal, and reconciliation, and resilience that you made real," Obama said. "A free South Africa at peace with itself - that's an example to the world, and that's Madiba's legacy to the nation he loved," he said, referring to Mandela by his clan name.
"His journey from a prisoner to a president embodied the promise that
human beings and countries can change for the better," Obama said,
adding that, so long as he lives, he will continue to live by Mandela's
words and deeds.
"We will not likely see the likes of Nelson Mandela again," Obama said.
"So it falls to us as best we can to forward the example that he set: to
make decisions guided not by hate, but by love; to never discount the
difference that one person can make; to strive for a future that is
worthy of his sacrifice."
Obama is expected to go to South Africa for Mandela's funeral. The US president went to Johannesburg earlier this year but did not visit the ailing leader, who was in the hospital at the time.
British Prime Minister David Cameron called Mandela "a hero of our time" and said "a great light has gone out in the world".
Immediately following the announcement of Mandela's death, UN secretary General Ban Ki-Moon told reporters he was astounded by the South African leader's humility when the two met in 2009.
"When I met him in his residence, I was deeply touched and moved and inspired by what he said," Ban recalled, when asked what his foremost memory of Mandela was. "When I praised him for his lifelong contribution and struggle to end apartheid, he said, 'It's not only me, there are hundreds and hundreds of unknown people who have contributed to ending apartheid.'"
"I was so touched," Ban said. "It has stuck with me since then. It was such a sense of human decency. Such humility and humbleness."
In his prepared statement, Ban called Mandela "a singular figure on the global stage -- a man of quiet dignity and towering achievement, a giant for justice and a down-to-earth human inspiration… Let us continue each day to be inspired by his lifelong example and his call to never cease working for a better and more just world."
F.W. de Klerk, South Africa's last white president, who shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Mandela in 1993, praised him "as a great unifier and a very, very special man in this regard beyond everything else he did.
"This emphasis on reconciliation was his greatest legacy," de Klerk told CNN.
Bill Clinton, who was US president during Mandela's time in office, said history would remember the former South African leader "as a champion for human dignity and freedom, for peace and reconciliation. We will remember him as a man of uncommon grace and compassion, for whom abandoning bitterness and embracing adversaries was not just a political strategy but a way of life."
Former US President George H.W. Bush, who was in office when Mandela was released from prison in 1990, said: "As president, I watched in wonder as Nelson Mandela had the remarkable capacity to forgive his jailers following 26 years of wrongful imprisonment - setting a powerful example of redemption and grace for us all."
European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said that "more than anyone else, Nelson Mandela inspired my generation and our world."