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'A fighter for freedom:' Leaders pay their respects to Mario Soares

Statesman Mario Soares' death has been met with tributes from leaders around the globe. The former Portuguese president is viewed as the father of his country's modern democracy and its accession to the European Union.

European leaders expressed their admiration on Saturday for the man who is credited as one of the key figures in the country's transition from dictatorship to democracy, as well as with leading Portugal into the EU.

Soares, who had been battling illness for the past several years, was admitted to a hospital in December and subsequently fell into a coma. He died on Saturday at the age of 92.

The founder of Portugal's Socialist party, Soares was president from 1986 to 1996. He later served as a European lawmaker.

"He was a fighter for freedom," said Portugal's conservative president, Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa. "It is a sad day for all Portuguese," added opposition leader Pedro Passos Coelho.

Political figures were not the only voices to honor the former leader - prominent cultural personalities also paid tribute. Famed Portuguese musician Rui Veloso called Soares "a man of culture and vision" to whom "we owe democracy since the 25th of November [1975]," referring to a landmark day in Portuguese history on which a military coup unsuccessfully attempted to overthrow the country's transition to democracy.

Lusophone countries pay respects to "a friend"

Figures from around the Portuguese-speaking world were quick to honor Soares. Former Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said that "Mario Soares was one of the great public figures of the 20th century, not only of Portugal, but of Europe and the world."

40 Jahren Nelkenrevolution in Portugal Manuel Alegre und Mario Soares (casacomum.org/Arquivo Mário Soares)

Soares, seen here in 1975, is considered the father of his country's modern democracy

Lula da Silva's protegee and former Brazilian president Dilma Rousseff called Soares a "militant for freedom." She hailed him as a man whose "life was dedicated to the politics and democracy of Portugal and an example for the world that it is possible to construct a democratic and egalitarian society for all."

Isaias Samakuva, a top Angolan politician and head of the UNITA political party, said that the former Portuguese colony had "lost a friend." He characterized Soares as a "personality of international status" and important figure in Angola's history who fought for democracy in his home country as well as for the Angolan reconciliation.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi echoed his fellow leaders' praise, and said that it was "not possible to speak of Portugal and Mozambique without referring to this important figure in the construction of this friendship." The sentiment was shared by one of his predecessors, Mozambique's longtime President Joaquim Chissano, who said that Soares would be remembered by Portugal's former colonies as "a friend."

International tributes

Soares' death brought tributes from abroad as well. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker released a statement shortly after news broke of the leader's passing. "Mario Soares was a symbol and a driver of resistance to the dictatorship and of the fight for democratic transition in his country," Juncker said.

European Parliament President Martin Schulz took to Twitter to pay his respects. "As a progressive Soares is more than historical figure: he's an inspiration. He advanced freedom, equality & dignity. His legacy will last," Schulz tweeted.

French President Francois Hollande said Portuguese democracy had lost "one of its heroes, Europe, one of its great leaders and France, a faithful friend."

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, meanwhile, called Soares "a great European" and the "decisive figure for Portuguese democracy."

"He played an important role in the accession of Portugal in the European Community, but also wishing to be consistent with his world vision, he contributed to the independence of the Portuguese colonies in Africa," noted former Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou in a statement.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi also sent his condolences to current Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa.

Venezuelan state television also aired a tribute to the statesman, saying that "up to his last day, he was the oracle of socialism for Portugal," and calling him "the implementer of democracy" 

blc/kl (Lusa, AFP, AP, dpa)