‘The big baobab tree has fallen’: Flood of tributes for Desmond Tutu

World leaders, religious figures and royals have paid tribute to Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the revered South African cleric who fought against apartheid for years.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winner has died aged 90 after years of health problems.

For six decades, Archbishop Tutu — known affectionately as "the Arch" — was one of the primary voices in exhorting the South African government to end apartheid, the country's official policy of racial segregation.

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After apartheid ended in the early '90s and the long-imprisoned Nelson Mandela became president of the country, Archbishop Tutu was named chair of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

His civil and human rights work led to prominent honours from around the world.

US President Joe Biden led a chorus of tributes.

"Today, we are heartbroken to learn of the passing of a true servant of God and of the people, Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa," he wrote on Twitter.

"We send our deepest condolences to the people of South Africa who are mourning this great loss."

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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "deeply saddened" to hear of Tutu's death.

"He was a critical figure in the fight against apartheid and in the struggle to create a new South Africa – and will be remembered for his spiritual leadership and irrepressible good humour," he said.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa expressed his condolences to the archbishop's family and friends, calling him "a patriot without equal".

"A man of extraordinary intellect, integrity and invincibility against the forces of apartheid, he was also tender and vulnerable in his compassion for those who had suffered oppression, injustice and violence under apartheid, and oppressed and downtrodden people around the world," Mr Ramaphosa said.

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Tutu had been a "towering global figure for peace" and an inspiration to generations.

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"During the darkest days of apartheid, he was a shining beacon for social justice, freedom and non-violent resistance," he said.

"Although Archbishop Tutu's passing leaves a huge void on the global stage, and in our hearts, we will be forever inspired by his example to continue the fight for a better world for all."

Former US President Barack Obama, who awarded Tutu the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009, also spoke.

"Archbishop Desmond Tutu was a mentor, a friend, and a moral compass for me and so many others. A universal spirit, Archbishop Tutu was grounded in the struggle for liberation and justice in his own country, but also concerned with injustice everywhere," he said.

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"He never lost his impish sense of humour and willingness to find humanity in his adversaries, and Michelle and I will miss him dearly."

In a statement, Queen Elizabeth II praised Tutu's "great warmth and humour".

"Archbishop Tutu's loss will be felt by the people of South Africa, and by so many people in Great Britain, Northern Ireland and across the Commonwealth, where he was held in such high affection and esteem," she said.

South Africa's ruling party, the African National Congress, issued a statement separate to that of the country's president.

"Indeed the big baobab tree has fallen," the ANC said.

"South Africa and the mass democratic movement has lost a tower of moral conscience and an epitome of wisdom."

Fellow spiritual leader and human rights activist the Dalai Lama said he had "cherished" his bond with the archbishop.

"Archbishop Desmond Tutu was entirely dedicated to serving his brothers and sisters for the greater common good," he said.

"He was a true humanitarian and a committed advocate of human rights."

The Vatican also issued a statement.

"His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the death of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and he offers heartfelt condolences to his family and loved ones," the statement read.

"Mindful of his service to the Gospel through the promotion of racial equality and reconciliation in his native South Africa, His Holiness commends his soul to the loving mercy of Almighty God."

Prime Minister Scott Morrison joined the chorus.

"Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the spiritual leader of the anti-apartheid movement," he tweeted.

"He believed in human dignity and the power of freedom to create a new nation. His deep faith was his powerhouse that made the world a better place. Thank you and 'well done good and faithful servant'."

With CNN and Associated Press.

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