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Former UN chief Annan dies at age 80

ACCRA/GENEVA (Reuters) – Former United Nations Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize lau­reate Kofi Annan died on Saturday at the age of 80, his foundation said, after decades of champion­ing efforts to try to end protracted conflicts in Africa, Asia, and the Middle East.

A VISITOR to the United Nations pauses in front of the portrait of former Secretary General Kofi Annan at the UN headquarters in New York City. Annan, one of the world’s most celebrated diplomats and a charismatic symbol of the UN who rose through its ranks to become the first black African secretary general, has died. He was 80. (AP)

A VISITOR to the United Nations pauses in front of the portrait of former Secretary General Kofi Annan at the UN headquarters in New York City. Annan, one of the world’s most celebrated diplomats and a charismatic symbol of the UN who rose through its ranks to become the first black African secretary general, has died. He was 80. (AP)

Annan, a Ghanaian national, died in hospital in Bern, Switzer­land, in the early hours, his close associates said.

In Geneva, the Kofi Annan Foun­dation announced his peaceful death after a short undisclosed ill­ness with “immense sadness,” say­ing he was surrounded in his last days by his second wife Nane and children Ama, Kojo, and Nina.

After rising through the ranks of the UN, Annan served two terms as UN Secretary-General in New York from 1997-2006 and retired to live in a Swiss village in the Ge­neva countryside. His 10-year-old foundation promotes good gover­nance and the transformation of African agriculture.

“In many ways, Kofi Annan was the United Nations. He rose through the ranks to lead the or­ganization into the new millennium with matchless dignity and deter­mination,” UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, whom Annan had chosen to head the UN refu­gee agency, said in a statement.

Annan and the United Nations shared the 2001 Nobel Peace Prize for efforts to reform the world body and give priority to human rights issues.

As head of UN peacekeeping op­erations, Annan was criticized for the world body’s failure to halt the genocide in Rwanda in the 1990s.

As UN boss, he was linked to peace efforts to reunite the divid­ed island of Cyprus, submitting a reunification blueprint which was rejected in a referendum by Greek Cypriots in 2004.

He staunchly opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and later served as the first UN envoy at the start of Syria’s war, but quit after world powers failed to fulfill their commitments, saying: “I lost my troops on the way to Damas­cus.”

“The UN can be improved, it is not perfect but if it didn’t exist you would have to create it,” he told the BBC’s “Hard Talk” during an interview for his 80th birth an­niversary in April, recorded at the Geneva Graduate Institute where he had studied.

“I am a stubborn optimist, I was born an optimist, and will remain an optimist,” added An­nan, who often joked about hav­ing learned from locals to wear earmuffs against the freezing cold during his undergraduate years at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, in the United States.

Raila Odinga, Kenyan opposition leader and former Prime Minis­ter, said on Citizen TV: “We didn’t expect Kofi to pass that abruptly. Kofi Annan is a man of integrity; a great African, a great leader of the world.”

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