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Visit by Obama is overshadowed by vigil for Mandela

US President privately meets the family of Nelson Mandela,who remains in critical condition

Written by New York Times | Johannesburg |
June 30, 2013 2:16:04 am

DECLAN WALSH & MICHAEL D SHEAR

Nelson Mandela always wanted to go quietly. Despite his stature as a global icon,he sought a dignified withdrawal from public life in recent years; privately he told aides of his desire for a quiet funeral,stripped of pomp.

That is not how it is happening now. With Mandela in critical condition in a hospital from a serious lung infection,and as President Obama arrived Friday for a state visit,the country was in the grip of passions,ceremony and controversy as its people come to terms with finally bidding Mandela farewell.

Outside the hospital gates,South Africans of all races prayed,sang and dropped flowers for their revered father figure. Less harmoniously,a simmering family feud over his funeral arrangements burst into public view. A 65-year-old woman claiming to be his illegitimate daughter stepped forward,demanding to be let into the hospital to meet him.

In the evening,Obama entered the fray,faced with a delicate diplomatic balancing act involving statesmanship,policy and respect for a fading hero. Obama,who had planned weeks ago to visit Mandela during this trip,wishes to honour the man who inspired his career in politics,mindful that he is arriving as South Africans are sorrowful over their beloved former president’s condition.

President Obama met privately Saturday with Mandela’s family. The meeting was held in Johannesburg at the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory.

He will however not meet with the ailing 94-year-old Mandela. The White House said the decision was made in accordance with the wishes of Mandela’s family.

At any other time,Obama’s arrival would have been a symbolically potent moment with resonance for both countries: America’s first black president visiting a nation that only two decades ago shook off the yoke of white minority rule.

“This trip is overshadowed by Nelson Mandela’s illness,” said Justice Malala,a political commentator and columnist.

Among some South Africans,the government’s careful management of news about Mandela even stoked speculation that it was somehow keeping him alive in order to facilitate Obama’s trip. The government flatly rejected such rumours.

Obama faces protesters in Johannesburg

JOHANNESBURG: President Barack Obama faced protests by South Africans against US foreign policy,especially American drone strikes. Police fired stun grenades to disperse several hundred protesters who had gathered outside the Soweto campus of the University of Johannesburg,where Obama addressed an afternoon town hall meeting with students. Reuters

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