World leaders bid farewell to late German chancellor Kohl

More than 800 dignitaries, including current and past world leaders, have bid farewell to ex-German chancellor Helmut Kohl who was instrumental in uniting Europe.

Kohl, who died aged 87 on June 16, was the first person to be honoured with an official memorial event by the European Union in the French city of Strasbourg.

The memorial event was followed by Kohl's coffin, draped with the flag of the EU, being taken to the German city of Speyer for a requiem Mass and military honours.

He will be buried in a private ceremony at a cemetery in the city.

Kohl, Germany's leader from 1982 to 1998, was a German patriot and at the same time a European patriot, said EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.

He was widely seen as having skillfully overcome the fears of Germany's neighbours when an end to the country's decades-long division into a communist east and a democratic west first became a realistic possibility in the late 1990s.

He drew on his friendships with several world leaders, often forged over hearty meals, to assure the Allied nations that beat Nazi Germany in the Second World War that his country no longer aspired to dominate others.

Several speakers recalled the poignant gesture of reconciliation in 1984, when former French president Francois Mitterrand and Kohl held hands during a ceremony at a First World War cemetery in Verdun, France.

French president Emmanuel Macron noted that it was Mitterrand and Kohl, two men who experienced the suffering of war on opposing sides, who were able to "overcome the terrible memories of their generation."

"Helmut Kohl gave us the chance to be involved in something bigger than ourselves," said former US president Bill Clinton, citing Kohl's willingness to put international cooperation before national interests at key moments in history.

Kohl's vision and persistence had paid a historic dividend, said his successor Angela Merkel

"Without Helmut Kohl the lives of millions of people who lived behind the (Berlin) Wall until 1990 would have taken a completely different course, including mine," said Ms Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany.

"Thank you for the opportunities you gave me."

EU Parliament president Antonio Tajani said Kohl deserved "a place of honour in the European pantheon" for unhesitatingly extending the hand of friendship to fledgling democracies in Eastern Europe following the fall of the Iron Curtain.


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