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Ex-West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt dead at 96

Helmut Schmidt, who led West Germany for eight years at the height of the Cold War, died in Hamburg on Tuesday, his office says. He was 96.

Schmidt, a Social Democrat, was one of Germany's most respected elder statesmen after guiding West Germany through economic turbulence and standing firm against a wave of homegrown terrorism. In addition to serving as Chancellor of West Germany from 1974 to 1982, he also served as finance minister, economics minister, and defense minister. He retired from parliament in 1987 after a clash with the Social Democratic Party's left wing.

Schmidt was also a leading proponent of the European monetary system, which led to the euro, and a European central bank.

"The death of Helmut Schmidt fills me with deep sadness," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. "We Germans have lost a father figure. Helmut Schmidt deeply shaped us and our country. Generations - me too - have sought and appreciated his wisdom and authority, until his death at a blessed age. Helmut Schmidt was not only Chancellor of the Germans, he was a mentor of the Germans."

Schmidt, who smoked as many as 60 cigarettes a day since he was a teenager, had long suffered from various health issues, but his condition quickly deteriorated over the past few days, which left him unconscious for most of the day. He told German television earlier this year that being 96 years old was a difficult time, and said he hoped that he would not reach 100.

The politician married his childhood sweetheart Loki in 1942, and they had two children, Susanne and Helmut Walter. Loki passed away in 2010 at the age of 91, and Helmut died when he was just a few months old.

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