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At 89, Mandela takes role in world peace alliance

Nelson Mandela, his wife, Graca Machel, and former president Jimmy Carter have joined a humanitarian alliance. Nelson Mandela, his wife, Graca Machel, and former president Jimmy Carter have joined a humanitarian alliance. (ANTONY KAMINJU/reuters)

JOHANNESBURG -- Nelson Mandela celebrated his 89th birthday yesterday by joining with other Nobel peace laureates, politicians, and development specialists to form a "council of elders" dedicated to fostering peace and resolving global crises.

"How God must love South Africa to have given us such a priceless gift!" Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the chairman of the elders group, told Mandela.

Mandela was imprisoned for nearly three decades for his fight against apartheid. Released in 1990, he led negotiations to end white rule. In South Africa's first fully democratic elections in 1994, he was elected president. He left office in 1999.

The new humanitarian alliance, called the Elders, was an idea of British entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel. Branson helped raise $18 million in funding for the group.

Along with Mandela and Tutu, the Elders are former president Jimmy Carter; former UN secretary general Kofi Annan; Ela Bhatt, an Indian women's rights campaigner; former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland; Li Zhaoxing, a former Chinese envoy to the United Nations; Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, a longtime campaigner for children's rights; former Irish president Mary Robinson; and Bangladeshi microcredit pioneer Muhammad Yunus.

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