Former German president Johannes Rau dies at 75
Friday, January 27, 2006
Former German president Johannes Rau has died on Friday morning in his home in Berlin at the age of 75, his office announced. Rau had been president of Germany from 1999 till 2004. He had a heart disease for a long time and had to undergo twice a surgery after leaving office. He is survived by his wife and their three children.
Rau was born on January 16, 1931 in Wuppertal. He first joined the Gesamtdeutsche Volkspartei in 1952. After the party had been dissolved, he followed his political mentor Gustav Heinemann to the Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD). He was elected member of the state legislature of North Rhine-Westphalia in 1958 and became governor of the state in 1978. He was an unsuccessful candidate for the chancellorship in 1987. He resigned as governor in 1998 when his party promised to nominate him for the presidential elections. During his presidency, Rau became the first German head of state to speak in the Israeli Knesset.
His successor, president Horst Köhler, ordered that a state funeral for Rau be held on February 7. He said Germany "has lost a distinctive politician, a great president and a man who made the world more humane."
Chancellor Angela Merkel said Germany "has lost an exceptional personality".
The governor of North Rhine-Westphalia, Jürgen Rüttgers, called Rau a "great governor" to whom the state and its people owe a great deal.
SPD chair Matthias Platzeck said the Social Democrats lost "an irreplaceable friend, who was one of the most outstanding and popular politicians of our country. [...] We will miss him."
Israeli president Moshe Katsav called Rau a "great friend of the Jewish people and of the state of Israel".
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