WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama hailed former South African President Nelson Mandela on Thursday 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.
"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 U.S. 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 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.
Obama is expected to go to South Africa for Mandela's funeral. The U.S. president went to Johannesburg earlier this year but did not visit the ailing leader, who was in the hospital at the time.
"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."
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Editing by Eric Beech)