Former Finnish PM Harri Holkeri dies at 74

AFP , Monday 8 Aug 2011

Former Finnish prime minister and United Nations General Assembly president Harri Holkeri has died at the age of 74, Finland's ruling National Coalition Party said Monday.

"Harri Holkeri died last night in Helsinki," party spokeswoman Jenni Haukio told AFP. Public broadcaster YLE said he passed away after a prolonged illness.

The death of Holkeri, who served as prime minister for the National Coalition Party between 1987 and 1991, "is sad news for all of us," Prime Minister Jyrki Katainen, of the same party, said in a statement.

Born in the rural southwestern town of Oripaeae in 1937, Holkeri served on the board of directors of Finland's central bank between 1978 and 1997, with a leave of absence for the years he was prime minister, and rose to become one of the National Coalition Party's most important figures in recent decades.

He unsuccessfully ran for president in Finland twice, in 1982 and 1988, before turning his focus to the international stage, helping mediate Northern Ireland peace negotiations in the late 1990s and was knighted by British Queen Elizabeth II for his efforts.

He chaired the UN national assembly from 2000 to 2001, and led the UN's civilian administration in Kosovo from 2003-2004.

After news of his death, Finland's political elite rushed to hail Holkeri, who leaves behind his wife, Marja-Liisa Lepistoe, two children and six grandchildren.

"Holkeri ... was the person who was able to build the confidence of people in difficult situations. This was one of the important personal characteristics that helped him achieve results in important international roles," Katainen said.

"We Finns can be proud of the work that Harri Holkeri did abroad," he added.

Former foreign minister Ilkka Kanerva, also of the National Coalition Party, meanwhile described Holkeri as someone who "totally dedicated his whole life to the needs of society."

"He was not just an official. He did his work with his whole heart," Kanerva told AFP.

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