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David Cameron explains selfie with Obama and Helle Thorning-Schmidt at Mandela Memorial

However, his comment may do little to offset the outrage sparked by the whimsical mobile photo

David Cameron has attempted to explain why he decided to lean in for a ‘selfie’ with Barack Obama and the Danish prime minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt during Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in Johannesberg yesterday.

Speaking to MPs today, he said: “When a member of the Kinnock family asked me for a photograph, I thought it was only polite to say yes.”

Thorning-Schmidt, the Social Democrat leader in Denmark, is married to former Labour leader Neil Kinnock’s son, Stephen Kinnock.

However, his comment may do little to offset the outrage sparked by the whimsical mobile photo, which many deemed ‘inappropriate’ given the nature of the occasion.

“What selfish morons take a 'selfie' at a memorial service? Oh yeah that's right, Barack Obama and David Cameron,” one Twitter user wrote.

“You have precisely zero class or decorum,” another message, directed at David Cameron, read.

And they weren’t the only ones who were less than impressed. Michelle Obama was captured looking stony-faced as her husband snapped away with the two leaders in the stands.

Mandela's Memorial: The Ultimate Who's Who

Earlier on, the President called the former South African leader a “giant of history” in a moving tribute, which was strangely delivered to a sparsely populated stadium that was only a third full.

The crowd – a mix of thousands of singing supporters and 90 world dignitaries  – emitted a roar as Obama took his seat, in marked contrast to the boos that greeted scandal-plagued South African President Jacob Zuma.

In his speech, Obama compared Mandela to Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr and Abraham Lincoln, declaring that the legacy of the leader who defeated apartheid must not be wasted.

He chided leaders who were quick to claim solidarity with Mandela's struggle with oppression and injustice, but did not allow freedom in their own countries.

“There are too many of us who happily embrace Madiba's legacy of racial reconciliation, but passionately resist even modest reforms that would challenge chronic poverty and growing inequality,” he said.

“There are too many leaders who claim solidarity with Madiba's struggle for freedom, but do not tolerate dissent from their own people,” he said.

As well as Castro, Obama also shook hands with Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff, who has been stridently critical of National Security Agency spying.

Video: Obama selfie at Mandela memorial