Arthur Chaskalson, 81, a civil rights lawyer who once helped defend Nelson Mandela and later became South Africa's chief justice, has died.

South Africa's presidency confirmed Mr. Chaskalson's death Saturday. The state-owned South African Broadcasting Corp. said he had been battling leukemia.

Mr. Chaskalson was one of several lawyers on the defense team that challenged the apartheid government's prosecution of members of the African National Congress for sabotage in the 1960s case known as the Rivonia Trial. Among the defendants was Mandela, who received a life sentence and served part of many years of it on the notorious Robben Island before being freed.

Mr. Chaskalson worked on other civil rights cases and later became a judge in the post-apartheid government when Mandela was elected president in 1994. - AP