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Nelson Mandela, Global Civil Rights Icon, Dead At 95

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JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA - Nelson Mandela, who was called "one of the most transformative and influential figures in modern history" by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, died Thursday at his Johannesburg home. He was 95 years old.

Mandela, a global civil rights icon and the first black president of South Africa, had been receiving treatment at home since being discharged from the hospital in September.

He was admitted to a Pretoria hospital in June with a recurring lung infection.

"He is now at peace," said Jacob Zuma, the president of South Africa, when he announced Mandela's passing on Thursday afternoon.

"The nation has lost its greatest son," Zuma said.

President Barack Obama said that Mandela "achieved more than could be expected of any man."

"He no longer belongs to us," Obama said. "He belongs to the ages."

Tributes to Mandela could be seen across the city soon after his death.

The Apollo Theater honored Mandela on its world-famous marquee with a sign that read, "In Memory of Nelson Mandela, 1918-2013. He changed our world."

Former Mayor David Dinkins was in charge of the city when Mandela came to visit in 1990.

"He might well have gone to Atlanta or Washington D.C., but the first place he came outside of South Africa was here to New York, and we were just delighted," Dinkins said.

He was known to his nation as Madiba, but known to the world as the man who broke the back of the racist policies of Apartheid South Africa.

Nelson Mandela's interest in education and politics started early in life: he studied hard and eventually became a lawyer.

But it wasn't until the 1948 election victory of the Afrikaner dominated National Party supporting the segregationist policies of Apartheid that the young lawyer Nelson Mandela found his voice.

From then on he became an active leader in the ANC, The African National Congress, devoted to ending Apartheid and the discrimination that kept thousands of black South Africans living in ghettos without proper housing, healthcare or education.

"We trusted him completely," said Lindewe Sisulu, a member of the African National Congress.

The long struggle against apartheid in South Africa became bloody through much of the 1950s and early '60s, as Mandela and the ANC felt the only way to make progress was to use arms and force.

He was branded a terrorist and after living on the run for months, Mandela was arrested in 1962 charged with sabotage and treason and in June of 1964 he was sentenced to life in prison.

He was a model prisoner on remote Robben Island, but even while he was in jail, his power and influence grew.

The chant of "Free Nelson Mandela" became the anthem of the struggling nation and pressure grew on the South African government to release him.

Finally, under intense pressure from the rest of the world and after meeting with Mandela secretly in prison, South African President F.W. de Klerk reversed a long standing ban on the ANC and other anti-apartheid organizations.

In 1990, at age 70, Mandela was released from jail. The event was broadcast live all over the world.

After his long exile, Mandela worked tirelessly to achieve South Africa's first multi-racial elections.

His partnership with F.W. de Klerk in dismantling the oppression of Apartheid won both men the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993 and in 1994, Mandela was elected president.

Nelson Mandela served as president of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He became a beloved figure around the globe and traveled extensively, even making several trips to New York City.

After witnessing the fall of apartheid, becoming the first black president of South Africa and many other historic achievements, Mandela retired from public life in 2004 amid failing health.

He fathered six children and has 17 grandchildren. He was married three times, famously to his second wife, Winnie Mandela, whom he divorced a few years after leaving prison and he remarried on his 80th birthday.

Whether in view or out of sight, Nelson Mandela will always remain a towering figure: a peace maker, a true leader and a man whose dignity carried his nation out of the dark.

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