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Nelson Mandela's Birthday

I heard on the radio that Jimmy Carter was at Nelson Mandela's birthday party. (There was no mention of the '"council of elders" dedicated to finding new ways to foster peace and resolve global crises, and to supporting the next generation of leaders.' But that's another problem.)

My thought was that George W. Bush isn't fit to lick either of those great men's boots (not that they would let him).

Global leaders, soccer legends celebrate Nelson Mandela's 89th birthday
The Associated Press, Tuesday, July 17, 2007
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa: Nelson Mandela gave the world a present for his 89th birthday Wednesday, joining other Nobel peace laureates, politicians and development experts in forming a "council of elders" dedicated to finding new ways to foster peace and resolve global crises, and to supporting the next generation of leaders.

The event kicked off with about 250 people taking to their feet to sing "Happy Birthday" as a beaming Mandela took the stage, accompanied by an aide and leaning heavily on his cane. His wife and former U.S. President Jimmy Carter later helped him to the podium.

"How God must love South Africa to have given us such a priceless gift," Desmond Tutu, South Africa's former Anglican archbishop and chairman of the elders group, told Mandela. "You bowled us all over by your graciousness, magnanimity and generosity of spirit."

Mandela was imprisoned for nearly three decades for his fight against apartheid. Released in 1990, he led negotiations to end white rule. In 1994, in South Africa's first fully democratic elections, he was elected president.

He left office in 1999 but has continued to work to reduce poverty, illiteracy and AIDS in Africa.

The new humanitarian alliance, called the Elders, was an idea of British entrepreneur Richard Branson, who shares a birthday with Mandela, and musician Peter Gabriel, who were present at Wednesday's launch.

The Elders, who include several Nobel peace laureates — among them Mandela — are dedicated to finding new ways to foster peace and resolve global crises, and to support the next generation of leaders.

Along with Mandela, Carter and Tutu, the Elders are former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan; Ela Bhatt, a women's rights campaigner from India; former Norwegian Prime Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland; Li Zhaoxing, a former Chinese envoy to the U.N. who started his diplomatic career in Africa; Mandela's wife Graca Machel, a longtime campaigner for children's rights; former Irish President Mary Robinson; and Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen Bank, the pioneering micro-credit institution.

A chair stood empty on the stage Wednesday for Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was invited to join the Elders but is under house arrest in her homeland.

"I am confident that The Elders can become real role models. They will support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair," Mandela said. "This initiative cannot have come at a more appropriate time. It brings together an extraordinary collection of people with skills and diversity to undertake what we know is an enormous task."

Mandela, who walked with difficulty Wednesday and was not expected to take an active role in the new group, joked about his attempts to stay in retirement.

While still maintaining his ramrod straight posture and calm deportment, Mandela struggles to walk, his ankles badly swollen. He appears thinner but less frail than he has at other recent appearances.

Mandela and Machel often held hands during the event, especially when Tutu reminded the crowd that the day also marked the couple's ninth wedding anniversary.

The atmosphere swung from tears to laughter. At one point, Gabriel sang his "Biko" unaccompanied, leaving Tutu weeping. Black leader Steve Biko died at the hands of the apartheid security forces 30 years ago.

The Elders received US$18 million in funding over three years from Branson and others. The members will decide their priorities over the next few months.

Addressing concerns about how effective the group could be, Carter said: "My prayer is that the great potential of The Elders might be realized though sound judgment and through dedication and courage."

The Elders event was part of a week of birthday festivities featuring visits by Mandela's many friends, including former U.S. President Bill Clinton. Messages of support rolled in all day from all corners of the world.

"The country and the world are privileged to celebrate the life of such an outstanding leader of our people," said President Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela in 1999.

Later Wednesday, retired Brazilian soccer star Pele and three-time African player of the year Samuel Eto'o, of Cameroon, were to be among more than 50 soccer stars taking part in "90 Minutes for Mandela" match.

The match, to be played in Cape Town, will pit Africa against the rest of the world.

Before the match, Jack Warner, vice president of FIFA, the world soccer organization, conferred honorary membership on the Makana Football Association, the soccer league formed by prisoners on Robben Island, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.

Separated from his comrades, Mandela watched the games from his cell window until authorities built a wall to isolate him further.

Braving a wet and misty morning the players sang "Happy Birthday" and kicked 89 balls on the field where the prisoners once played.

"I am a son of Mandela," said George Weah, 1995 world player of the year who made a bid to become president of his home country Liberia. "He has inspired me and fought for our continent. He inspired millions all over the world."___
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