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Austrian President Klestil dies on eve of retiring
Updated: 2004-07-07 07:42

Austrian President Thomas Klestil, who helped restore the presidency's image after a Nazi-era controversy that dogged his predecessor, died late on Tuesday aged 71 on the eve of his departure from office.

"He died today at 11:33 p.m. (1833 EDT)," said a spokeswoman for Vienna General Hospital, where Klestil had been in intensive care since a heart attack on Monday.

Austria President Thomas Klestil died on July 6, 2004 at the age of 71 following heart failure, Austrian state television and the national news agency said. Klestil is seen the imperial Hofburg palace in this April 9 file photo. [Reuters]
Doctors had said earlier on Tuesday they could do nothing but hope and pray for Klestil's survival after his heart twice stopped beating, triggering multiple organ failure.

Klestil, who has had a history of lung problems, was under sedation and on artificial respiration. He was due to step down on Thursday after two six-year terms and hand over the largely ceremonial presidency to Social Democrat Heinz Fischer.

Klestil won the respect, if not the affection, of Austrians for repairing much of the damage to the country's international image caused by revelations about former president and U.N. Secretary-General Kurt Waldheim's role in the German army under Adolf Hitler's Third Reich.

Austria President Thomas Klestil died July 6, 2004 at the age of 71 following heart failure, Austrian state television and the national news agency said. Austrian President Thomas Klestil waves as he stands next to his wife Margot at the opening of the Salzburg festival in this July 22, 2001 file photo.  [Reuters/File]
But the career diplomat also raised the eyebrows of many traditionalists in the Roman Catholic country when he began a relationship with a young aide, Margot Loeffler, prompting his wife of 37 years to walk out on him in 1994.

Klestil married Loeffler in 1998, shortly after being re-elected to a second term.

Klestil, a conservative like Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, was a critic of Schuessel's decision to forge a coalition with the far-right Freedom Party of Joerg Haider in 2000 -- a decision which resulted in eight months of international diplomatic sanctions against Austria.


Klestil, who succeeded Waldheim in 1992, was also known for the famously stony face he maintained in February 2000 when swearing in the first Austrian government to include Joerg Haider's far-right Freedom Party .

"The Freedom Party is not a Nazi party," Klestil said in an interview at the time. "But unfortunately the highest officials of this party continue to use a language which disqualifies them for every political office."

But Klestil in the end did not use his constitutional powers to dismiss the government. Instead, he swore in the conservative and far-right ministers with a stern and unhappy look.

Born in 1932, the youngest of five children of a Vienna tram driver, Klestil spent 18 of his 35 years as a professional diplomat in the United States.

He went straight from university into the diplomatic service, first with Austria's mission to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in Paris, then to the embassy in Washington as a junior diplomat.

He later served as Austrian ambassador to the United Nations and the United States.

After resigning from the diplomatic service, he was elected president in 1992 representing the conservative People's Party.

The head of state in Austria has mostly representative functions, but his voice counts on important issues and he can influence the formation of a government.

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