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Past, Present World Leaders Hail Kohl As 'Friend Of Freedom,' Unifier Of Europe

  • RFE/RL

Current and past world leaders praised former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl as a "friend of freedom" and the "very essence of Europe."

Kohl, who led Germany for 16 years, died on June 16 at age 87 at his home in the western city of Ludwigshafen in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate. The cause of death was not immediately announced.

Kohl served as chancellor of West Germany from 1982 to 1990 and of a reunited Germany until 1998.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, once considered a Kohl protege, said the former leader was "the right man at the right time" during the tumultuous changes sweeping through Eastern Europe at the end of the 1980s.

Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany and was appointed by Kohl to her first ministerial position after reunification, added that Kohl had a strong impact on her personally, saying he changed her life "decisively" and "I am personally very grateful that he was there."

Speaking in Rome, Merkel said Kohl skillful statesmanship helped win over Germany's neighbors and made certain the peaceful reunification of the country

Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush on June 16 described Kohl as "a true friend of freedom" and "one of the greatest leaders in postwar Europe."

"Helmut hated war -- but he detested totalitarianism even more," Bush said in a statement.

"Working closely with my very good friend to help achieve a peaceful end to the Cold War and the unification of Germany within NATO will remain one of the great joys of my life," said Bush, who was president from 1989 to 1993.

Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev also lauded Kohl as "an outstanding person."

"He warned the West against disregard for Russia's interests," Gorbachev said in a statement posted on the website of his foundation. "Helmut Kohl always took a large and profound interest in Russia, its history, and Russian-German relations."

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton said he was "deeply saddened" by the death of "my dear friend" whose "visionary leadership prepared Germany and all of Europe for the 21st century."

According to the Russian state-run Interfax news agency, President Vladimir Putin sent a telegram of condolences to the German president, citing Kohl as a "highly reputed statesman, one of the patriarchs of European and world politics."

"I was lucky to know Helmut Kohl in person. I profoundly admired his wisdom and the ability to make well-considered, far-reaching decisions even in the most difficult situations," said Putin, a fluent German speaker who spent several years in East Germany as a KGB officer.

Kohl played a key role in promoting European integration and introduction of the common currency, the euro, during his 16 years in office, the longest term ever for a democratically elected German chancellor.

Kohl in 1999 praised both Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and European leaders for their roles in enabling reunification of East and West Germany at ceremonies marking the 10th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, calling it a "magnificent European concerted action."

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker described Kohl as the "very essence of Europe."

"Helmut's death hurts me deeply. My mentor, my friend, the very essence of Europe, he will be greatly, greatly missed," Juncker said on Twitter.

European Council President Donald Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, posted on Twitter that he would "always remember Helmut Kohl. A friend and a statesman who helped reunite Europe."

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg tweeted that Kohl was the "embodiment of a united Germany in a united Europe."

"When the Berlin Wall fell, he rose to the occasion. A true European," Stoltenberg wrote.

French President Emmanuel Macron called Kohl a "great European."

"An architect of united Germany and Franco-German friendship: with Helmut Kohl, we have lost a great European," he wrote on Twitter.

Kohl was born on April 3, 1930, in Ludwigshafen. He rose through the ranks Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party before becoming chancellor in 1982.

After losing an election in 1998, Kohl stepped down as head of the CDU and took a less visible role in politics amid a campaign-finance scandal.

He remained a member of the Bundestag before retiring in 2002. In recent years, he had been confined to a wheelchair, his speech impaired after his jaw was paralyzed in a fall in 2008.

With reporting by AFP, dpa, AP, and Reuters
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