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The photographer who captured President Barack Obama, Danish Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt and UK Prime Minister David Cameron taking a selfie at Nelson Mandela's memorial service on Tuesday insists Michelle Obama's stern reaction seen in the photo was not directed at the group.

"I later read on social media that Michelle Obama seemed to be rather peeved on seeing the Danish prime minister take the picture," Roberto Schmidt, the Agence France-Presse photographer who took the photo, wrote in a blog post.

"But photos can lie. In reality, just a few seconds earlier the first lady was herself joking with those around her, Cameron and Thorning-Schmidt included. Her stern look was captured by chance."

That didn't stop the tabloids from splashing the first lady's reaction shots on their covers.

"Michelle's beside her selfie over flirty 'Bam," the Daily News declared.

"Flirting With Dane-Ger!" the New York Post warned.

The cover of the New York Post yesterday. Photo: NY Post.

"No Selfie Respect," the UK's Sun said.

Schmidt also defended the world leaders' decision to take a selfie at the memorial service.

"All around me in the stadium, South Africans were dancing, singing and laughing to honor their departed leader," Schmidt wrote. "It was more like a carnival atmosphere, not at all morbid."

Tuesday's event was not a funeral. Nonetheless, the "Selfies at Funerals" Tumblr, which documented the aforementioned trend, categorised the group's selfie as one.

"Obama has taken a funeral selfie," Jason Feifer, the site's creator, wrote. "So our work here is done."

Schmidt claims he was surprised by the controversy his photos generated.

“I took these photos totally spontaneously, without thinking about what impact they might have," he wrote.

"At the time, I thought the world leaders were simply acting like human beings, like me and you. I guess it’s a sign of our times that somehow this image seemed to get more attention than the event itself. Go figure.”

Fake 'signer' at Mandela memorial outrages deaf
A fake sign language interpreter took to the stage during the memorial for anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela, gesticulating gibberish before a global audience of millions and outraging deaf people across the world.

DeafSA, South Africa's leading deaf association, condemned the presence of the unknown man at the memorial, which was attended by President Jacob Zuma and scores of world leaders including U.S. President Barack Obama.

While dignitaries were addressing the crowd in the 95,000-seat Soccer City stadium, the young, suited man with an official security pass round his neck produced a series of hand signals that experts said meant absolutely nothing.

Besides the bizarre twist to an event that also saw Zuma booed and jeered, his presence on the stage within yards of Obama and Brazil's Dilma Rousseff raises awkward security questions.

"He was basically gesturing. He didn't follow any of the grammatical rules and structure of the language. He just invented his signs as he went along," said Delphin Hlungwane, an official South African sign language interpreter at DeafSA.

"There was zero percent accuracy. He couldn't even get the basics right. He couldn't even say thank you," she told Reuters.

Hlungwane said the 'interpreter' also failed to impart to television viewers - as he should have done - that the crowd gave a hostile reception to Zuma, a scandal-plagued leader who faces an election in less than six months.

"You're supposed to indicate with your facial expressions, even if it's not an exact sign," she said. "He didn't indicate that at all. It just passed him by."

The hunt is on for the man, whose identity is a mystery to South Africa's deaf community and the government, which was officially in charge of Tuesday's ceremony.

The ruling African National Congress (ANC) also professed no knowledge, even though television footage from a party congress a year ago appears to show the same man gesticulating on a stage alongside Zuma.

"I don't know this guy. He doesn't work for the ANC. It was a government event. Ask them," spokesman Jackson Mthembu said.

Zuma spokesman Mac Maharaj said he was checking the reports to try to determine the man's identity.


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