Austrian President Thomas Klestil, who brought calm to an office frayed by controversy surrounding his predecessor's past in the Nazi army, died July 6. He was 71.
President Klestil, whose second six-year term was to end July 8, died of multiple organ failure, officials at Vienna's General Hospital told the Associated Press. He had been taken to the hospital by air July 5 after suffering heart failure.
Heinz Fischer is the president-elect. Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel assumed the presidential duties when President Klestil fell ill.
President Klestil was widely credited with restoring Austria's credibility after it was revealed that predecessor Kurt Waldheim served in Germany's Nazi military. President Klestil distinguished himself by speaking out numerous times against Austria's Nazi complicity during World War II, expressing sympathy for Holocaust victims during a first-term visit to Israel. And although Austria's presidency is a largely ceremonial post, he strengthened the country's ties with emerging democracies in Eastern Europe and in 1993 began convening a yearly meeting of the heads of state of Central European countries.
But he later found himself in political turmoil as he feuded with the rightist Freedom Party, which gained popularity with its anti-immigrant, populist rhetoric.
Though nominated for the presidency by Austria's conservative People's Party, President Klestil later clashed with its leader, Schuessel, and was abandoned by the party. Political differences between the two included President Klestil's opposition to letting the Freedom Party join the People's Party to form a coalition government in 2000.
He backed off, but front-page photos of a stone-faced President Klestil swearing in members of the Freedom Party to government posts spoke volumes about his opposition to letting those linked to anti-foreigner and past anti-Jewish sentiment share government responsibility.
Critics occasionally accused President Klestil of overstepping the ceremonial bounds of his office. But he proved efficient, and in 1995, during his first term, Austria joined the European Union.
When the European Union punished Austria for allowing the Freedom Party to join the government, he put his diplomatic skills to work and lobbied heads of states to lift sanctions seven months after they were slapped on the nation.
The native of Vienna studied economics and business before earning a doctorate in 1957. In 1969, he established the Austrian General Consulate in Los Angeles, where he befriended Arnold Schwarzenegger.
In 1978, he was appointed Austria's ambassador to the United Nations. Four years later, he moved to Washington, where he became the Alpine nation's ambassador to the United States.
He was elected president in 1992, succeeding Waldheim, the former U.N. secretary-general who was widely despised after revelations that he concealed details about his service in Germany's army during World War II.
President Klestil was reelected but was barred by the constitution from running for a third term.
He is survived by his wife and a daughter and two sons from a previous marriage.