Washington braces for death of Nelson Mandela

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Politics,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Nelson Mandela

Officials in Washington and around the world are bracing for the death of longtime civil rights leader and former South African President Nelson Mandela, who is hospitalized again in serious condition for a lung condition. His aides have asked for prayers.

"It looks bad," said one U.S. official who added: "Washington is keeping a close eye on the former leader and civil rights hero."

Expectations are that President Obama and possibly former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush would attend a funeral. No travel plans have been made, however.

Mandela, in prison for 27 years before being freed and eventually winning the presidency, has been in a Pretoria hospital since Saturday, his fourth hospital trip for lung ailments. On Saturday, a government spokesman said Mandela's condition had "deteriorated." On Monday, President Jacob Zuma said "his condition is unchanged."

World leaders were shaken when Zuma on Saturday appealed for prayers and Mandela's wife, children's rights activist Graca Machel, canceled a speech in Britain to remain by his side.

News reports noted that comments from South African officials have been suggesting that Mandela is near death. Jackson Mthembu, spokesman for the African National Congress, told Sky News that the party was "prepared for the worst." Even Mandela's estranged wife Winnie visited him.

Back in March, there was another health scare for Mandela, but he recovered. He contracted tuberculosis while he was in jail for fighting apartheid. He was freed in 1990 and was elected president four years later. He helped to heal the years of segregation.

Obama is planning a trip to Africa in early July with stops in South Africa. Michelle Obama visited Mandela two years ago. On Tuesday, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the president wished Mandela a "speedy recovery."