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Helmut Kohl, chancellor who reunited Germany, dies at 87

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Berlin, Jun 17 (AP)- Helmut Kohl, the physically imposing German chancellor whose reunification of a nation divided by the Cold War put Germany at the heart of a united Europe, died Friday at his home in Ludwig-shafen. He was 87.
"A life has ended and the person who lived it will go down in history" said German Chancellor Angela Merkel, speaking from Rome. "It will take some time, however, until we can truly judge what we have lost in him. Helmut Kohl was a great German and a great European."
During his 16 years at the country's helm from 1982 to 1998 - first for West Germany and then all of a united Germany - Kohl combined a dogged pursuit of European unity with a keen instinct for history. Less than a year after the November 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, he spearheaded the end of Germany's decades-long divi-sion into East and West, ushering in a new era in European politics.
"When a new spirit began to sweep through Eastern Europe in the 1980s, when freedom was won in Poland, when brave people in Leipzig, East Berlin and elsewhere in East Germany staged a peaceful revolution, Helmut Kohl was the right person at the right time," said Merkel. "He held fast to the dream and goal of a united Germany, even as others wavered."
It was the close friendships that Kohl built up with other world leaders that helped him persuade both anti-communist Western allies and the leaders of the collapsing Soviet Union that a strong, united Germany could live at peace with its neighbors.
"Helmut Kohl was the most important European statesman since World War II," Bill Clinton, the former U.S. president, said in 2011, adding that Kohl answered the big questions of his time "correctly for Germany, cor-rectly for Europe, correctly for the United States, correctly for the future of the world."
Former U.S. President George H.W. Bush said the world had lost "a true friend of freedom."
"Working closely with my very good friend to help achieve a peaceful end to the Cold War and the unification of Germany within NATO will remain one of the great joys of my life," Bush said. "Throughout our endeav-ors, Helmut was a rock - both steady and strong."
President Donald Trump said Kohl was "a friend and ally to the United States as he led the Federal Republic of Germany through 16 pivotal years. He was not only the father of German reunification, but also an advocate for Europe and the trans-Atlantic relationship."
"The world has benefited from his vision and efforts. His legacy will live on," he said in a statement.
Russian President Vladimir Putin credited Kohl with "playing a key role in putting an end to the Cold War and with the reunification of Germany."
Kohl's estrangement from his party lasted until 2002, when its new leaders invited him to speak at a convention as they sought to regain power.
The former chancellor was married for 41 years to Hannelore Renner, an interpreter of English and French who stood firmly but discreetly by his side. They had two sons, Peter and Walter.
In July 2001, Hannelore killed herself at age 68 in despair over an incurable allergy to light. In 2005, Kohl introduced his new partner Maike Richter, an economist some 35 years his junior. The couple married in May 2008.
Though slowed by illness in his later years, Kohl still made occasional eye-catching interventions on the politi-cal stage. As Merkel struggled to convince center-right lawmakers in 2011 of the wisdom of having Germany finance further bailouts of other eurozone nations, Kohl weighed in firmly.
"There must be no question for us that we in the European Union and the eurozone stand by Greece in solidari-ty," he declared.
He also appeared to question Merkel's approach at a time when conservatives were unsettled by her decision to speed up Germany's exit from nuclear energy and by Germany's abstention in a U.N. vote on a no-fly zone over Libya.
"I ask myself where Germany stands today and where it wants to go," he said.
In April 2016, Kohl welcomed Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban - who had clashed with Merkel over Europe's approach to a large influx of refugees - to his home. That coincided with the publication of a new foreword to a Kohl essay in which the ex-chancellor stated that "Europe cannot become the new home for mil-lions of people in need worldwide."
Despite their differences, Merkel made clear Friday that Kohl had touched her life deeply when he helped forge a united Germany.
"Like millions of others, I was able to go from a life under a dictatorship to a life of freedom," she said. "He will continue to live in our memories as a great European and as the Chancellor of reunification."