Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed Mandela as a world-renowned statesman who peacefully transformed his country.

"With arduous and extraordinary efforts, he led the people of South Africa to success in the struggle against apartheid, making a historic contribution to the birth and development of a new South Africa," Xi said in a statement that seemed carefully worded to avoid any encouragement of people power in communist-ruled China.

In Europe, the honors were more lauding of Mandela's personal sacrifice in challenging the apartheid regime, for which he spent 27 years in prison.

"Mandela traversed great hardships and trials, but remained true to the noble ideals of humanism and justice right to the end,” Russian President Vladimir Putin said of the departed figure whose long imprisonment was frequently denounced by Soviet leaders before him.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel called Mandela a "luminous example" that will continue to inspire justice advocates for years to come.

"Even many years in prison could not break Nelson Mandela or make him bitter -- his message of reconciliation ultimately led to a new, better South Africa," Merkel said.

A giant portrait of Mandela covered the facade of the Quai d'Orsay building housing the French Foreign Ministry on the banks of the Seine River in Paris, and the Eiffel Tower was illuminated in the colors of the South African flag. Flowers were laid in front of the South African Embassy in the French capital, as was a newspaper emblazoned with a headline bidding farewell to the beloved leader: "Adieu Mandela."

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Twitter: @cjwilliamslat

carol.williams@latimes.com