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WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama says South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu is a “moral titan” who will be missed as he formally retires from public life Thursday on his 79th birthday.

Obama Ad Desmond Tutu

Obama says the Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been a voice of principle, an unrelenting champion of justice and a dedicated peacemaker.

Tutu played a pivotal role in South Africa’s struggle against apartheid, the now-abolished system of white-minority rule. He also has advocated freedom and justice worldwide, supported gay rights and pushed for treatment programs to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

Tutu announced this year that he would retire on his birthday, Oct. 7, to spend more time with his family.

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