LONDON - Nelson Mandela uttered just four words criticising Zimbabwe's leadership, but they were enough to resonate around the world.
The former South African president and elder African statesman is in London to celebrate his 90th birthday, including meetings with the prime minister and the queen, dinner with A-list celebrities and a star-studded concert for nearly 50000 fans today.
That gig now looks like being overshadowed by events in Zimbabwe, where widely condemned elections are due to be held the same day today.
Although basking in the adoration he traditionally enjoys on visits abroad, Mandela, 89, a man seen as a rare moral authority, has been under increasing pressure in Britain to condemn Zimbabwe's President Robert Mugabe.
In a speech at a dinner late on Wednesday, Mandela highlighted several global crises including poverty, the Middle East, Iraq and Darfur before referring to a "tragic failure of leadership" in Zimbabwe.
While brief, the phrase hit the headlines, with reports saying Mandela had "broken his silence".
Today's concert has been organised to raise funds for Mandela's HIV-Aids charity called 46664, named after the prison number he was given during more than a quarter of a century behind bars for his stand against apartheid.
The crowd in London's Hyde Park is expected to number 46664 people who will hear the likes of Annie Lennox, Queen, Leona Lewis and Amy Winehouse performing.
Winehouse's spokesman said yesterday the Grammy Award-winning soul singer would appear despite being diagnosed with a lung condition.
It gives Mandela a far more public platform to expand on his comments about Zimbabwe, but even if he is tempted to take the stage, some of the acts on the night argue such an approach could backfire. - Reuters