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US political journalist Gwen Ifill dies of cancer at age 61

Veteran US journalist Gwen Ifill, who co-anchored the nightly "NewsHour" program on public broadcaster PBS, has died at the age of 61. President Obama has called her an "extraordinary journalist" and "role model."

Gwen Ifill died Monday surrounded by family and friends after undergoing months of cancer treatment, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) said in a statement.

Ifill was one of the most prominent and celebrated broadcast journalists in the United States. She covered eight presidential campaigns, moderated two vice presidential debates and authored a best-selling book about President Barack Obama, "The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama."

Ifill began her career in print journalism as a reporter for the "Baltimore Evening Sun," "The New York Times" and "The Washington Post," among others, before making the switch to television in the 1990s. She moved to PBS in 1999 to host political discussion show "Washington Week," and also worked for PBS' hour-long nightly newscast "NewsHour." Ifill and Judy Woodruff were named co-anchors of the program in 2013, becoming the show's first all female anchor team.

In a speech on Monday, Obama praised Ifill's achievements, calling her "a friend," and an "extraordinary journalist" who "always kept faith with the fundamental responsibility of her profession."

"She not only informed today's citizens, but she also inspired tomorrow's journalists," Obama said. "She was an especially powerful role model or young women and girls who admired her integrity, her tenacity and intellect."

In early November PBS announced that Ifill would be taking some time off from "NewsHour" for unspecified health reasons.

"Gwen was a standard bearer for courage, fairness and integrity in an industry going through seismic change," Sara Just, PBS "NewsHour" executive producer, said. "She was a mentor to so many across the industry and her professionalism was respected across the political spectrum."

Ifill won numerous awards for her work, including the George Foster Peabody Award and the National Press Club's Fourth Estate Award.

nm/bw (AP, Reuters)