JOHANNESBURG — Flags across several continents fell to half staff early Friday, and South Africans poured into the streets at daybreak in mourning for Nelson Mandela, a liberator whose life spanned nearly a century and whose model for dignity and peace-making was admired across the world.

The death Thursday of Mandela, 95, spurred the rarest of outpourings – one nearly universal and unanimous, as South African President Jacob Zuma announced a national week of mourning before a state funeral is held on Dec. 15.

Mandela’s face appeared on newspaper front pages from Berlin to Beirut, often with just a few somber words and the years of his life: 1918-2013. His death spurred social media tributes in the United States and China.

In South Africa, where Mandela rose from prisoner to president, crowds gathered to sing and dance outside his home in Johannesburg, where he died with his family beside him. In Soweto – the home to some of the worst apartheid-era strife – black and white South Africans joined hands in mourning.

Crowds also congregated in a mall in Sandton, where a huge statue of Mandela stands in a square named after him. South Africans gathered in Pretoria, the seat of government, to remember him as well.

Zuma said a memorial service will be held Tuesday at FNB Stadium in Johannesburg. Mandela’s body will lie in state in Pretoria from Dec. 11-13 before he is buried in Qunu, his rural birthplace, two days later.

“The messages we have received since last night have heartened and overwhelmed us,” said Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, the first statement from the Mandela family since the death, Agence France-Presse reported. “He is an embodiment of strength, struggle and survival, principles that are cherished by humanity,” he said.

South Africans learned of Mandela’s death late Thursday, when Zuma said in an address that the nation’s “greatest son” was “now at peace.” He referred to Mandela as Madiba, his clan name and a term of affection.

On Friday, Zuma said that “we’ll always love Madiba for teaching us that it is possible to overcome hatred and anger in order to build a new nation and a new society.”

Though Mandela had been absent from public life for several years as he battled illness, his death spurred rich tributes from around the world.

President Obama, who like Mandela was his country’s first black president, said: “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. He no longer belongs to us; he belongs to the ages.”

Obama ordered U.S. flags flown at half-staff until sunset Monday to honor Mandela.

Some South Africans broke into tears describing Mandela’s importance in televised interviews.

“We collectively claim him as the father of our nation,” retired Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu, a close friend of Mandela’s and a fellow fighter against apartheid, said in Cape Town. “What’s going to happen to us now that our father has died?”

Some analysts have worried for years about a splintering of South Africa in the wake of Mandela’s death, since the country is still riven with problems, including a youth unemployment rate near 50 percent and one of the world’s highest income disparities. The reality of multiracial democracy has proved harder and far less equal than many expected when it arrived in 1994, but Mandela always scoffed at the notion that his country would face special challenges after his death.

Among Mandela’s global admirers who paid tribute to him was Hillary Rodham Clinton, who wrote on Twitter that he was an “unconquerable soul.”

The New York Stock Exchange observed a moment of silence for Mandela on Friday morning shortly before its opening bell.

Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a letter of condolence to Zuma, saying China will remember Mandela’s devotion to “human progress.”

By 10:22 p.m. Friday in Beijing, the number of comments related to Mandela reached 491,364 on Sina Weibo, the Chinese microblogging website.

In public remarks at a women’s forum in Rangoon, Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner, said Mandela was a “great human being who raised the standard of humanity.”

The Indian government declared five days of state mourning for Mandela. Both houses of the Indian Parliament adjourned for the day to honor a man who had embraced the principles of independence leader Mahatma Gandhi and who once said he had “followed the Gandhian strategy for as long as I could.”

“This is as much India’s loss as South Africa’s,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh tweeted. “He was a true Gandhian.”

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, in a letter to Zuma, expressed his “great sorrow and deep grief,” adding that Mandela “gave meaning and spirit to the long road toward liberty gloriously.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin said in a condolence note to Zuma that “having endured difficult sufferings, Mandela remained faithful to the ideals of humanism and justice until the end of his life.”

Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev told the Interfax news agency Friday: “He was an amazing, clever, and talented statesman. He told me many times that the perestroika in the U.S.S.R. did a lot to help his country get rid of apartheid.” He referred to his political restructuring movement, which contributed to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev said Mandela set “a great example for thinking people.”


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