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Lithuanian Soviet leader turned democrat, Brazauskas, dies

Algirdas Brazauskas had been undergoing treatment for lymphatic cancer.

Vilnius: Algirdas Brazauskas, the last communist-era boss of Lithuania who went from Soviet apparatchik to respected leader of the democratic Baltic state, died on Saturday aged 77 after a long illness.

Brazauskas, who had been undergoing treatment for prostate and lymphatic cancer, passed away at his home in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius, deputy Social Democrat leader Juozas Olekas said.

Born on September 22, 1932, in Rokiskis in northern Lithuania, Brazauskas was a child when Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union first carved up and then fought over the region during World War II.

After ruling Lithuania from 1939-1941, Moscow again took over in 1944, and Brazauskas grew up a Soviet citizen.

He graduated as an engineer in 1956, and gradually climbed the ladder in the local Soviet administration and Communist Party.

In the late 1980s, Kremlin leader Mikhail Gorbachev`s "perestroika" reforms opened the road in the Baltic for the "Singing Revolution" independence drive, so-called because it centred on mass traditional choral gatherings.

Brazauskas, elected chief of the local party in 1988, backed the independence movement.

The following year, he took the Lithuanian branch out of the Kremlin-controlled Communist Party of the Soviet Union and re-branded it the Democratic Labour Party, now the Social Democrats.

On January 15, 1990, Brazauskas was elected chairman of the board of Lithuania`s Soviet Parliament, dominated by pro-independence members. That made him de facto head of state.

Lithuania declared independence on March 11, 1990, setting off a wave across the Soviet Union. Brazauskas became deputy leader of its unrecognised government.


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