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Obamas to meet Mandela family, not visit hospital

U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive at Waterkloof Air Base in South Africa, June 28, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed
U.S. President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama arrive at Waterkloof Air Base in South Africa, June 28, 2013. REUTERS/Jason Reed

PRETORIA (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will meet on Saturday with relatives of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, but they will not visit the hospital where the former South African president is critically ill, the White House said.

Obama is in South Africa on the second stop of a three-nation Africa tour. His visit had triggered intense speculation that the United States' first African-American president might visit 94-year-old Mandela in the Pretoria hospital where he has spent three weeks being treated for a lung infection.

"Out of deference to Nelson Mandela's peace and comfort and the family's wishes, they will not be visiting the hospital," the White House said in a statement.

The Obamas would meet privately with members of the Mandela family "to offer their thoughts and prayers at this difficult time," the statement added.

Since starting his Africa tour in Senegal on Thursday, Obama has paid fulsome tribute to the man globally admired as a symbol of struggle against injustice and of racial reconciliation for the way he led South Africa out of centuries of white-minority rule.

The U.S. president has called Mandela a "personal hero" and is due to make a tour on Sunday of Robben Island, the former penal colony where South Africa's first black president passed 18 of the 27 years he spent in apartheid jails.

Obama held bilateral talks on Saturday in Pretoria with South African President Jacob Zuma.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Mark Felsenthal; Writing by Pascal Fletcher; Editing by Ed Cropley)

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