Sharon's death: UN's Ban says the former Israeli PM was a 'hero'

UNITED NATIONS (AFP) - UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon hailed Ariel Sharon on Saturday as a "hero" to Israelis, who would leave behind a "legacy of pragmatism" in the Middle East.

"Ariel Sharon was a hero to his people, first as a soldier and then a statesman," the UN leader said in a statement issued by his spokesman shortly after the Israeli leader's death.

"Prime Minister Sharon will be remembered for his political courage and determination to carry through with the painful and historic decision to withdraw Israeli settlers and troops from the Gaza Strip," Ban said.

"The secretary-general calls on Israel to build on the late prime minister's legacy of pragmatism to work towards the long overdue achievement of an independent and viable Palestinian state, next to a secure Israel," said the UN leader, offering "condolences to the bereaved family and to the government and people of Israel."

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