Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi was invited to join
the group but is under house arrest in her homeland [EPA]
Nelson Mandela has marked his 89th birthday by forming a "council of elders" dedicated to finding new ways to resolve some of the world's longest-running crises.
The former South African president launched his fellow elder statesmen on a new venture to foster peace, reduce conflict and despair during a birthday celebration on Wednesday.
Among them are Kofi Annan, the former UN secretary-general, Jimmy Carter, the former US president and Desmond Tutu, the retired South African archbishop.
Mandela said he hoped the new humanitarian alliance of Nobel peace laureates, politicians and development experts could make a difference.
The group called The Elders was an idea of British entrepreneur Richard Branson and musician Peter Gabriel, both of whom were present at the launch.
Branson and others pledged $18m to fund The Elders over three years.
Other members include Ela Bhatt, a women's rights campaigner from India, former Norwegian prime minister Gro Harlem Brundtland, Li Zhaoxing, the former Chinese envoy to the UN now based in Africa, Mandela's wife Graca Machel, a children's rights campaigner, former Irish president Mary Robinson, and Muhammad Yunus, founder of Grameen bank, the pioneering micro-credit institution.
On stage, a chair stood empty for Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was invited to join the group but is under house arrest in her homeland.
Mandela said he was confident The Elders would become "real role models".
"They will support courage where there is fear, foster agreement where there is conflict and inspire hope where there is despair,'' he said. "This initiative cannot have come at a more appropriate time."
The event kicked off with about 250 people singing "Happy Birthday" as a beaming Mandela took the stage, accompanied by an aide and leaning heavily on his cane, helped to the podium by his wife and Carter.
Carter said he would pray for the great potential of The Elders to be realised "though sound judgment and through dedication and courage".
Fifa gave the football association of Mandela's
ex-prison mates honorary membership [EPA]
The Elders event was part of a week of birthday festivities, with messages of support rolling in all day from all corners of the world.
Later on Wednesday, more than 50 football legends participated in a special "90 Minutes for Mandela" match in Cape Town.
Among them were retired Brazilian soccer star Pele and three-time African player of the year Samuel Eto'o, of Cameroon.
The game pitted Africa against the rest of the world, and ended with a 3-3 draw.
Earlier, Jack Warner, the vice-president of Fifa, the world footballing body, conferred honorary membership on the Makana Football Association, the football league formed by prisoners on Robben island, where Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years in prison.
Separated from his comrades, Mandela watched the games from his cell window until the authorities built a wall to isolate him further.
Source: Al Jazeera and agencies