Ex-German Chancellor Helmut Kohl dies aged 87

Helmut Kohl who led the centre-right Christian Democrats was the longest-serving German chancellor of the 20th Century

BERLIN (AP) - Helmut Kohl, one of the towering figures of European politics whose greatest achievement is considered the skillful reunification of a divided Germany, has died at 87.

"The longest serving Chancellor in modern German history, Chancellor Kohl was a friend and ally to the USA as he led the Federal Republic of Germany through sixteen pivotal years", Trump said in a statement.

His party, the Christian Democratic Union, confirmed on Friday that Kohl had died.

Former German chancellor Helmut Kohl on the shore of Lake Tegernsee in Bad Wiessee, southern Germany.

Merkel, Germany's incumbent chancellor who grew up in communist East Germany before being appointed by Kohl to her first ministerial post, said he "changed my own life path decisively" by reuniting Germany.

The German newspaper Bild reported that Kohl died Friday at his home in Ludwigshafen. This required great political strength and courage - both of which qualities Helmut had in abundance.

In Brussels, European flags were lowered to half-mast in tribute.

Kohl's first attempt to unseat Social Democratic Chancellor Helmut Schmidt failed in 1976, but Kohl seized his chance six years later, taking power on October 1, 1982 when a junior coalition party switched sides.

"This man who was great in every sense of the word - his achievement, his role as a statesman in Germany at its historical moment - it's going to take a while until we can truly assess what we have lost in his passing", Merkel said at a news conference, according to a translation by German publication Deutsche Welle.

The view was echoed by German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel.

Former president Bill Clinton said he was "deeply saddened" by the death of "my dear friend" whose "visionary leadership prepared Germany and all of Europe for the 21st century".

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said Kohl "was a great European and a great friend".

FILE: German chancellor Helmut Kohl and his wife Hannelore dance during the Presseball on 11 January 1987 in Berlin, Germany.

"[I'm expressing] honest condolences to the German people over the irreparable loss of the man who meant the whole epoch, Helmut Kohl, the leader who has made an invaluable contribution to strengthening European unity and healing the scars of the Cold War", Poroshenko wrote on Facebook on Friday evening.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said "I will always remember Helmut Kohl".

President Donald Trump hailed Kohl as a "friend and ally" of the United States.

Helmut Kohl remains the longest serving German chancellor, from 1982 to 1998.

"We mourn", the CDU tweeted with a picture of the former chancellor. Kohl's trip with then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan to a war cemetery in Bitburg where SS troops were buried alongside ordinary German soldiers generated worldwide indignation.

"I bow down before his memory", said Merkel, who described Kohl as a "great German and great European".

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