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South Africa president: Mandela's recovery continues

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View images of civil rights leader Nelson Mandela, who went from anti-apartheid activist to prisoner to South Africa's first black president.

Nelson Mandela’s health is continuing to get better, South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma said Thursday, after visiting the anti-apartheid icon in the hospital where he is being treated for pneumonia.

A statement from the country’s presidency said Zuma visited Mandela and received a briefing from doctors that indicated “continuous improvement in his condition.”

“Madiba [Mandela] is stable and we are thankful that he is responding well to treatment and that he is much better. We remain thankful for all the support to the family during this difficult time," Zuma said in the statement.

The president also met members of Mandela’s family, who “expressed their gratitude for the support from South Africans and people from all over the world,” the statement said.

Mandela was admitted to hospital late on Wednesday last week, when Zuma asked people to pray for him, prompting global concern for the 94-year-old’s health.

A government statement issued Saturday said doctors had drained excess fluid from Mandela's lungs and that he was breathing without difficulty.

It is the third health scare in four months for Mandela, who became South Africa's first black president in 1994 and was hailed as a global symbol of tolerance and harmony.

Mandela stepped down as president in 1999 and has not been politically active for a decade.

But he is still revered at home and abroad for leading the struggle against apartheid rule and then championing racial reconciliation while in office.

Global figures such as U.S. President Barack Obama have sent get-well messages, and South Africans included him in Easter prayers over the weekend.

Mandela has a history of lung problems dating back to when he contracted tuberculosis as a political prisoner. He spent 27 years in prison on Robben Island and in other jails for his attempts to overthrow the white-minority government.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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