All French flags will fly at half-mast in tribute to Nelson Mandela, as the country's leaders paid homage to the anti-apartheid icon. Anti-racism groups in Paris have also called for people to gather outside the South African embassy on Friday evening to pay their respects to Mandela.
In a statement President François Hollande, who will travel to South Africa to attend Mandela's funeral in his second visit to the country, described Mandela as a "magnificent conqueror" saying he was a "tireless fighter against apartheid," which he "defeated by his courage, persistence and perseverance."
"Nelson Mandela’s message will not disappear, it will continue to inspire freedom fighters and give confidence to people in defense of just causes and universal rights. He showed that the human will can not only break the chains of captivity but also liberate its energies to successfully build a common destiny."
"All humanity is in mourning," Ayrault told reporters in Beijing, on the second day of a visit to China.
"France joins in this mourning. She stands alongside the South Africans who are crying today for this great man."
Mandela became a symbol for "all of humanity" added Ayrault. "He leaves us a legacy. We are all responsible for it."
VIDEO: See how Mandela was greeted on his first trip to France in 1990.
In a statement released earlier, the French head of government said of Mandela: "All his life he fought with courage for justice and against the evil of apartheid.
"It is with respect and humility that I bow to the memory of this extraordinary man, who will long be an inspiration to all of humanity," he said.
The Nobel laureate "governed with wisdom and probity, for togetherness and reconciliation" and had "guided his people towards freedom and dignity", he added.
"His fight against racism and for liberty went beyond borders of his own country and had a universal impact."
Shortly after Mandela's death was announced French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius paid his own respects to the "a charismatic giant" who had led South Africa from apartheid to democracy.
"With Nelson Mandela, the father of South Africa has died, the driving force for freedom and for reconciliation," Fabius said in a statement.
Gathering at the South African Embassy in Paris
Anti-racism group SOS-Racisme has called for people to gather outside the South African embassy at the Quai d'Orsay at 6pm on Friday to pay their respects.