Obama meets Mandela family amid protests over South Africa visit

Johannesburg, June 29 (IANS) Barack Obama Saturday met the family members of anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela, who is in critical condition in hospital, even as police fired stun grenades at hundreds of people protesting the US president’s visit to South Africa.

The meeting between Obama and Mandela’s family, which lasted for about half an hour, took place at the Nelson Mandela Center of Memory in Johannesburg, Xinhua reported.

Obama was accompanied by his wife Michelle Obama, but it was not clear which family members of Mandela took part in the meeting.

Obama earlier said he would not visit the 94-year-old Mandela in hospital.

The White House said the decision was made in accordance with the wishes of Mandela’s family. Obama himself said he did not want to be “obtrusive” when Mandela is in bed.

After talks with South African President Jacob Zuma earlier in the day, Obama lauded Mandela for his outstanding contributions to South Africa.

Obama said it was “great” to see what was happening in South Africa, when so many other regions were divided by conflict and disputes.

Obama wished a quick recovery for Mandela who spent his 22nd day in hospital Saturday for a recurring lung infection.

Mandela’s condition remains critical after showing some improvement in the past two days, according to Zuma who issued the latest update on Mandela’s health.

Zuma said the government hopes that Mandela will be out of hospital soon.

According to a statement from the White House, Obama also talked to Mandela’s wife over telephone Saturday.

Meanwhile, police fired stun grenades Saturday at hundreds of people protesting Obama’s visit to South Africa, a witness told Xinhua.

Several loud bangs were heard and smoke was seen rising from the scene.

There was no immediate report on casualties. Police were seen arresting people.

The protest took place outside the University of Johannesburg Soweto Campus, where Obama was scheduled to hold a town hall meeting later Saturday.

Similar protests also took place in Pretoria Friday, but they went peacefully.

The protesters demanded that the US stop its aggressive policy in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Middle East conflict, globalisation and global warming.

Saturday’s protest was organised by the “No You Can’t Obama Campaign (Nobama)”.

The campaign is also protesting the university’s “poor and undemocratic” decision to award Obama an honorary doctorate, Xinhua reported.

Obama arrived in South Africa Friday on a three-day official visit, his second to South Africa and the first as US president. He came from Senegal and will continue to Tanzania.

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