First post-Soviet Lithuanian President Brazauskas dies

Image caption,
Algirdas Brazauskas helped steer Lithuania to independence

The first directly-elected president of independent Lithuania, Algirdas Brazauskas, has died at the age of 77 after a long struggle with cancer.

He started his political career with the Communist Party when Lithuania was part of the Soviet Union but broke with Moscow in the late 1980s.

Mr Brazauskas was a key figure in Lithuania's independence from the USSR in 1991.

He was elected the country's first post-independence president in 1993.

Lithuanian media said Mr Brazauskas had lymphoma and prostate cancer.

'Dared to decide'

As president, he launched Lithuania's bids to enter Nato and the EU. The country joined both groupings in 2004.

He chose not to seek re-election in 1998, and left politics.

He returned to government, however, in 2001 to lead the Social Democrats and became prime minister under his successor as president, Valdas Adamkus.

He stepped down as prime minister in 2006.

"The memory of the first directly elected president of Lithuania after it restored its independence, of a strong and charismatic personality, will remain for a long time in the hearts of the Lithuanian people," President Dalia Grybauskaite said in a statement.

Mr Adamkus said he "dared to decide which side to choose in a critical moment".

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