Longest-serving Dutch prime minister Ruud Lubbers dies

Lubbers (above, in 2010) remained prime minister for a record 12 years until 1994. PHOTO: AFP

AMSTERDAM (REUTERS) - Ruud Lubbers, the longest-serving prime minister ever of the Netherlands and a former UN high commissioner for refugees, died Wednesday, the Dutch government announced. He was 78.

"Today, Feb 14, 2018, former prime minister Ruud Lubbers died surrounded by his wife and children... in his hometown of Rotterdam," it said in a statement.

A member of the conservative Christian Democratic Appeal (CDA), Lubbers became one of the country's youngest prime ministers at the age of 43 in 1982.

He was to remain prime minister for a record 12 years until 1994.

Current Prime Minister Mark Rutte praised Lubbers as "intelligent and wise" saying the country had "lost a statesman with a huge stature".

Known as a pragmatist, and for steering his country's economic growth, Lubbers was also considered one of the chief architects of the 1991 Maastricht Treaty on closer European union.

"Ruud Lubbers was a committed European, and a world citizen. At a time of international tensions, he gave the Netherlands an international face," said Rutte, quoted by the Dutch news agency ANP.

The son of a wealthy industrialist, Lubbers attended a Jesuit school student who studied economics before joining his family's Hollandia Kloos engineering company in 1963.

It was in 1967, when he was a leader of the Dutch Federation of Christian Employers (NCW), that he launched his political career.

Six years later, he became the European country's youngest economy minister at the age of 34. He was later picked as the Christian Democrats' leader in the Chamber of Deputies.

His 12 years atop the government were marked in part by his battle with parliament to win an agreement for the deployment of Nato's European missiles in the Netherlands.

But his career was also marked by two defeats, failing in his bids to head the European Commission in 1994 and Nato a year later.

He was the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for more than four years, but resigned in 2005 amid allegations of sexual harassment, which he denied.

No cause of death was given, but the Dutch broadcaster NOS said he had long suffered from an unspecified illness.

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