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Friend: Nation must let Mandela go

Nelson Mandela remains serious but stable on his third day in a Pretoria hospital. "His condition is unchanged," the office of president Jacob Zuma said, urging South Africans to pray for the former president and his family.

Mr Mandela, who is 94, was taken to hospital on Saturday to be treated for a recurring lung infection. At that time, Mr Zuma's office described the anti-apartheid leader's condition as "serious but stable."

On Sunday, members of Mr Mandela's family were seen at the hospital and the African National Congress, South Africa's ruling party, dismissed as false a report in The Star newspaper that relatavies had barred senior party leaders and government officials from visiting.

"We have spoken to the family about this report and they deny that they issued such an instruction or (have) spoken to the media on barring the ANC and government from visiting Madiba," the party said, using Mr Mandela's clan name.

"What we know is that given the pressure associated with the admission of president Mandela, there are general restrictions that permit only relevant people to have access," the party said. "As the ANC, we have deferred this responsibility to president Zuma to liaise with the family and the hospital."

On April 29, state television broadcast footage of a visit to Mr Mandela's home by Mr Zuma and other ANC leaders. The footage - the first public images of Mr Mandela in nearly a year - showed him silent and unresponsive..

Some said that showing images of a clearly ailing Mr Mandela was inappropriate and appeared to reflect an attempt by the ruling party to benefit politically from its association with Mr Mandela, a former ANC head, in the run up to national elections next year.

Mr Mandela has been hospitalised several times in recent months. During a stay that ended on April 6, doctors diagnosed him with pneumonia and drained fluid from his chest.

He has been vulnerable to respiratory problems since contracting tuberculosis during 27 years as the prisoner of the white racist government. The bulk of that period was spent on Robben Island, off the coast of Cape Town where he and other prisoners spent part of the time working in a stone quarry.

He was freed in 1990 and won election to the presidency in the country's first all-race elections in 1994. He was seen by many around the world as a symbol of resolve and reconciliation for his sacrifice in confinement as well as his peacemaking efforts during the tense transition that saw the demise of the apartheid system.

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