In nearly seven decades spent fighting for freedom and equality, Nelson Mandela inspired and challenged the world to stand up for others. As word of Mandela's death spread, current and former presidents, athletes and entertainers, and people around the world spoke about the life and legacy of the former South African leader.

From Havana to Caracas, Bogota to Mexico City, from Harlem to Hollywood and Paris to Beijing, people hailed Mandela's indomitable courage in the face of adversity as an inspiration for all. In a testament to his universal appeal, political leaders of various stripes joined critics and activists in paying tribute to Mandela as a heroic force for peace and reconciliation.

Some knew Mandela personally while many only knew him from afar, but they shared how they drew inspiration from his strength and looked to live his message of continuing the struggle against social injustice and for human rights.

Latin American Leaders React

Juan Manuel Santos, President of Colombia

"His legacy remains our guide to achieve peace."

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Oscar Arias, Former President of Costa Rica and Nobel Peace Prize Winner in 1986

"Madiba has died. His sunset would be a tragedy if not for his life having been a miracle of incandescence."

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Pérez Esquivel, Nobel Peace Prize Winner

"Mandela left, but he is not gone. His testimony of life and the principles he assumed in the struggle for life remain. Today, many challenges remain in South Africa and the process of struggle to which he collaborated will serve as a compass to South Africans. Nelson Mandela was and will be an example for humanity."

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Nicolás Maduro, President of Venezuela

"In tribute to the giant Nelson Mandela, I've decided on behalf of all of Venezuela to declare three days of mourning throughout the country of Bolivar and Chavez!

In other tweets, Maduro wrote: Nine months after the death of our commander (Hugo Chavez) today another giant of the world leaves us. Madiba will live forever!

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Raúl Castro, President of Cuba

Mandela was mourned in Cuba, which has long felt a close bond with the late South African leader. Havana considered him a hero for supporting it amid U.S. and international criticism.

"With deep sorrow, I transmit the deepest condolences on the passing of our dear comrad Nelson Mandela. We profess profund respect and admiration, not only for what did for his people, but for his proven friendship to our country. We can never speak of Mandela in the past. 

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Miguel Montenegro, Commission of Human Rights for the Government of El Salvador

"It's a loss for all humanity, Mandela was an enlightening person who served as a great example to all the world's nations and especially for unjust governments who committed serious human rights violations.

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Laura Chinchilla, President of Costa Rica

"Today the world mourns the departure of Nelson Mandela. He led his country to a deferential scenario that suffered. Our country and the world are touched by the loss of one of the men most exemplary of contemporary history. Footprint Mandela is strong worldwide and more at the level of Africa. "

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Fernando Núñez Fábrega, Panama's Minister for Foreign Affairs 

"This was a man who suffered the brunt of the hardest dictatorship in Africa, however, he remained intact in his beliefs and succeeded because of it."

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Daniel Ortega, President of Nicaragua declaring 3 days of mourning

“The world says goodbye to a great man, a myth, a legend, a patrimony of Africa and of humanity. Nelson Mandela lived each day of his life struggling steadfastly for peace, fraternity and human dignity.”

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Piedad Córdoba Ruiz, Prominent Colombian lawyer and politician

"He was one of the few men left in the world with his inspiration, with his principles, his ethical stance, with his incorruptible stance, his defense of life, human rights...and especially (his capacity) to manage and reconcile a county torn apart by war."

 

The World

"He no longer belongs to us. He belongs to the ages," said President Barack Obama, who shares with Mandela the distinction of being his country's first black president.

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At the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Ky., on display is a photograph of the U.S. boxing great with Mandela, their hands clenched into fists as if they're boxing.

"He made us realize, we are our brother's keeper and that our brothers come in all colors," Ali said. "He was a man whose heart, soul and spirit could not be contained or restrained by racial and economic injustices, metal bars or the burden of hate and revenge."

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Former U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan said the world had lost "a visionary leader, a courageous voice for justice and a clear moral compass." Both Annan and Archbishop Desmond Tutu were part of Mandela's group of statesmen known as The Elders.

"God was so good to us in South Africa by giving us Nelson Mandela to be our president at a crucial moment in our history," Tutu said. "He inspired us to walk the path of forgiveness and reconciliation and so South Africa did not go up in flames."

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President Xi Jinping of China, which supported apartheid's opponents throughout the Cold War, praised Mandela's victory in the anti-apartheid struggle and his contribution to "the cause of human progress."

For Chinese rights activists, Mandela's death served as a reminder that one of their own symbols of freedom, Nobel Peace prize laureate Liu Xiaobo, remained imprisoned by Chinese authorities. "This moment magnifies how evil the current regime is," Beijing activist Hu Jia said.

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In Kiev, where Ukrainians have gathered for anti-government demonstrations around-the-clock for the past week, protesters took a moment to recall Mandela's legacy.

"He had many troubles in his life. He was in prison, but he was waiting and he achieved what he wanted," protester Alena Pivovar said. "We have the same situation now. We have some barriers, but we have to pass them."

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The United Nation's top human rights official, Navi Pillay — a South African who was once a defense lawyer for anti-apartheid activists — said Mandela "was perhaps the greatest moral leader of our time."

Pillay recalled how Mandela's release from prison triggered a "thirst for revenge" among his supporters but that he emphasized forgiveness over vengeance. "He told us to throw our spears and guns into the sea," Pillay said. "He showed us that a better future depended on reconciliation, not revenge."

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In Haiti, a Caribbean nation that became the world's first black republic in 1804 through a successful slave revolt, Mandela symbolized the struggle for black equality.

"Mandela is not only the father of democracy in South Africa, but is also a symbol of democracy," said Haitian President Michel Martelly. "And like any symbol, he is not dead. He is present in all of us and guides us by his lifestyle, his courage and faith in the true struggle for equality."

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"Mandela's message will not disappear. It will continue to inspire those fighting for freedom and to give confidence to people defending just causes and universal rights," said French President Francois Hollande, who is hosting dozens of African leaders this week for a summit on peace and security.

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In New York City's Harlem neighborhood, artist Franco Gaskin, 85, stood before a mural featuring Mandela he had painted on a storefront gate almost 20 years ago. He remembered a Mandela visit there in 1990. "It was dynamic, everyone was so electrified to see him in Harlem," Gaskin said. "I idolized him so much. He leaves a legacy that all of us should follow."

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Myanmar pro-democracy leader and fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi paid tribute to Mandela as a "great human being who raised the standard of humanity."

"I would like to express my extreme grief at the passing away of the man who stood for human rights and for equality in this world," she said. "He also made us understand that we can change the world."

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India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh compared Mandela to his country's own icon for the struggle for freedom, independence leader Mohandas K. Gandhi.

"A giant among men has passed away. This is as much India's loss as South Africa's. He was a true Gandhian. His life and work will remain a source of eternal inspiration for generations to come."

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Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott described Mandela as one of the great figures of the 20th century who had healed a broken country.

"He spent much of his life standing against the injustice of apartheid. When that fight was won, he inspired us again by his capacity to forgive and reconcile his country," Abbott said.

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Israeli President Shimon Peres said Mandela was a "builder of bridges of peace and dialogue" who changed the course of history, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised his moral leadership.

"He was never haughty," Netanyahu said. "He worked to heal rifts within South African society and succeeded in preventing outbreaks of racial hatred."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.