Algirdas Brazauskas, 1st president of Lithuanian after independence, dies aged 77

By Liudas Dapkus, AP
Saturday, June 26, 2010

Lithuania’s former president Brazauskas dies at 77

VILNIUS, Lithuania — Lithuania’s first post-independence president, Algirdas Brazauskas, died at his home Saturday, his wife said. He was 77.

Brazauskas had been receiving treatment since the beginning of the year for prostate cancer and lymphoma, Kristina Brazauskiene said.

He became Lithuania’s first freely elected president in 1993, two years after the Baltic state regained independence from Moscow following five decades of Soviet occupation.

“He was an honest man, a charismatic leader and outstanding politician,” President Dalia Grybauskaite said. “The memory of the first president of independent Lithuania will remain in the hearts of the people.”

A former chairman of the Lithuanian Communist Party, Brazauskas gained popularity in the late 1980s by challenging the Kremlin with demands for more political and economic freedom.

He ignored threats from the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, and decided to break away from the Soviet Union’s Communist Party and formed Democratic Labour Party that became one of Lithuania’s key political forces and later merged with Social Democrats.

Although his political opponents criticized his ties with the occupying Soviet regime, Brazauskas remained one of most respected and popular politicians of his generation. The burly, white-haired veteran was considered affable and down-to-earth.

Despite his popularity, he decided not to run for a second term in 1998 and said he would retire from politics.

But he returned and was elected prime minister in 2000.

As government leader he launched economic and fiscal reforms that helped make Lithuania one the world’s fastest-growing economies before the global economic downturn.

Brazauskas is survived by his wife and two daughters.

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