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Nelson Mandela appealed to Congress on Tuesday to support the struggle for a multiracial democracy in South Africa and said his country "continues to bleed and suffocate" under the repression of white-minority rule.

"Our people continue to die to this day, victims of armed agents of the state who are still determined to turn their guns against the very idea of a racial democracy," the South African black leader told a rapt audience of lawmakers, diplomats and Cabinet officers in the House of Representatives chamber.Mandela did not specifically address the issue of his embrace of violence as a last-resort alternative in the struggle for freedom, although he reminded his audience of the many Americans who died for freedom in the Revolutionary War, the Civil War and two world wars.

Mandela was greeted with prolonged applause as he made his way into the chamber. He beamed a wide smile as he mounted the podium and began a speech that was punctuated by applause.

His refusal to renounce violence on Monday when he met with President Bush has caused some of his supporters consternation.

In his speech, he said: "We would be fools to believe that the road ahead of us is without major hurdles. Too many among our white compatriots are slaves in the ideology of racism to admit easily that change must come."

He added, pointedly, "For those who care to worry about violence in our country as we do, it is at these forces that they should focus their attention."

Mandela thanked the United States for the sanctions against the government of South Africa imposed after Congress overrode President Ronald Reagan's veto in 1986, and he repeated his call for direct economic aid to the ANC.

In seeking more help, Mandela presented his vision of the South Africa of the future - a non-racial society with a democratic constitution, a bill of rights, an independent judiciary and a multiparty political system.

While defending the right of government to intervene in the economy to help the poor, he said the ANC "holds no ideological positions which dictate that it must adopt a policy of nationalization" and promised that foreign businessmen would have confidence in the security of their investments.

But Mandela, who has drawn criticism from members of Congress for his support of violence as well as Cuba's Fidel Castro, Libya's Moammar Gadhafi and the PLO's Yasser Arafat, said such a democratic society could not be built until violence by the white South African government ended.

"It (South Africa) thirsts for the situation where those who are entitled by law to carry arms, as the forces of national security and law and order, will not turn their weapons against the citizens simply because the citizens assert that equality, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are fundamental human rights which are not only inalienable but must, if necessary, be defended with the weapons of war," he said in a 35-minute speech.

Mandela became the third former political prisoner to address a joint meeting of Congress in the last eight months, following Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa Nov. 15 and Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel Feb. 21.

Mandela was only the third private citizen ever to address a joint meeting, with the others being Walesa and Marquis de Lafayette in 1824.

He was the fourth foreign black leader to address Congress, joining Liberian President William Tolbert in 1976, Haitian President William Magliore in 1955 and Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1954.

Mandela clearly preferred to talk of his vision of a peaceful future.

"Let us keep our arms locked together so that we form a solid phalanx against racism to ensure that that day comes now. By our common actions, let us ensure that justice triumphs without delay."

The deputy president of the ANC credited white President F.W. de Klerk with being committed to peaceful transition in South Africa.

"Here we have friends. Here we have fighters against racism who feel hurt because we are hurt, who seek our success because we, too, seek the victory of democracy over tyranny."

In their struggle for democracy, Mandela said, black South Africans are following the examples of George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Jefferson, as well as black American leaders like Martin Luther King Jr.

"Our people demand democracy. Our country, which continues to bleed and suffocate, needs democracy," he said.

Mandela, who met with Bush on Monday, was wrapping up his visit to Washington later in the day after several other public appearances.


(Additional information)

Reactions to Mandela visit

-Some members of Congress are concerned with Nelson Mandela's rejection of President Bush's appeal to renounce violence.

-Tourists in Washington find that travel plans around town are interrupted by motorcades, road closures and security precautions. (See Page A2.)

-Some backers are uncomfortable with Mandela's expressions of support for Cuban President Fidel Castro, Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi and Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, who he says supported the ANC while the West was paying only lip service.

-Five Cuban-American mayors in Florida, including the mayor of Miami, jointly denounced Mandela for refusing to condemn human-rights violations in Cuba.