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Tributes pour in for Mandela

Johannesburg, July 17 (Reuters): Tributes from around the globe poured in for Nelson Mandela today, one day before South Africa’s anti-apartheid icon celebrates his 85th birthday.

“It’s a national day of celebration,” said President Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela in 1999.

“All of us as a country are indeed very blessed that we have somebody like him.”

Mandela received birthday wishes from former Archbishop Desmond Tutu and others at his Johannesburg office, where he was presented with a book compiling tributes along with some of his best-known speeches.

“I never imagined I would still be treated the way you are treating me,” said Mandela, who won the Nobel prize for guiding South Africa from Whites-only rule to multi-racial democracy in 1994.

“I have lost office, I have lost influence, I am now a has-been and that’s the way I want to be treated,” he said.

Mandela, known by his clan name “Madiba” to millions of South Africans, has several birthday events planned, capped by a star-studded celebration on Saturday expected to draw royalty, celebrities and political leaders from around the world.

Well-wishers sent e-mail greetings to Mandela at South Africa’s official Internet site, www.safrica.info, while phone company Telkom launched a campaign to set a new world record for the most birthday wishes ever received by one person, opening up local and international lines for people to send their wishes.

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